Judge cleared in roadless case - Court dismisses ethics complaint, says no basis for allegations
WASHINGTON _ A federal appeals court has dismissed an ethics complaint filed against a judge whose ruling opened up nearly a third of national forests to timber cutting and other development.
Two watchdog groups had complained that U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer, of Wyoming, owns stock or royalty interests in 15 oil and gas companies that could be affected by a July 14 decision invalidating the so-called roadless rule.
The rule, issued in the final days of the Clinton administration, limits timber harvesting and other development on 58 million acres of remote forest land controlled by the Forest Service.
Brimmer's decision would open the land to oil, gas and mineral exploration.
In dismissing the complaint last week, Chief Judge Deanell Tacha of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said she could find no basis for the allegations. Neither the watchdog groups nor the companies in which Brimmer owns stock were parties to the case.
In her six-page ruling, Tacha said the Washington-based watchdog groups -- Community Rights Counsel and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- had taken the wrong approach.
By filing an ethics complaint, the groups bypassed the normal appeals process in order to attack the judge's integrity, Tacha wrote.
"Our misconduct rules clearly recognize the inappropriateness of such an approach to alleged judicial bias or prejudice," she wrote.
Kermit Brown, past president of the Wyoming State Bar, called the complaint against Brimmer "a personal attack calculated to attempt to intimidate the judiciary."
Brimmer, 81, has served on the federal bench since 1975. He said in documents filed with the appeals court that he had done nothing wrong. His financial holdings include a number of gas and oil companies, Brimmer said, but "were not secret interests."
The stock holdings were revealed in financial interest statements filed annually with the court, Brimmer said, and none of the companies was a party to the case in question.
Federal law prohibits a judge from ruling in a case where he or she has a financial or other interest that could be "substantially affected" by the outcome of the case.
Representatives of the groups that filed the complaint could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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