WASHINGTON - A federal judge whose ruling opened up nearly a third of national forests to timber cutting and other development owns stock or royalty interests in 15 oil and gas companies, two activist groups contended Tuesday in an appeals court complaint.
The complaint, filed by the Community Rights Counsel and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accuses U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of conflict of interest in a July 14 ruling that invalidated 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.
The ruling by the Wyoming-based judge would open the land to oil, gas and mineral exploration. If upheld, it could raise stock prices for companies that do that work and create a potential windfall for Brimmer, the groups contend in a complaint filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Chief Judge Deanell Tacha of the appeals court will receive the complaint. She can either dismiss it or appoint a special panel to investigate, a spokesman said. Possible sanctions range from no action to a public reprimand or removal of Brimmer from cases involving oil or gas interests.
Financial disclosure statements filed in late 2001 - after Brimmer began presiding over the roadless case - show he held stock or royalty interests in 15 different oil and gas concerns, with a total value between $400,000 and $1.1 million, the complaint said. Those interests represented about half of Brimmer's assets.
Among companies in Brimmer's portfolio were British Petroleum, ExxonMobil, Chevron-Texaco, Merit Energy Co. and Marathon Oil. Some or all of the companies stand to benefit if oil and gas exploration is allowed in roadless areas, the complaint said.
Brimmer, a Republican who has served on the bench since 1975, said in a written statement that while his financial holdings "include certain gas and oil companies," none was a party to the case in question."
"I also own some mineral interests, but am not aware of any that are located within a national forest," Brimmer said. "During the more than two years this matter has been pending in my court there have been thousands of pages of documents filed and numerous hearings conducted. The parties in the case have never raised any issue about the propriety of my involvement."
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.
© 2003 The Associated Press