FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A federal appeals court has reversed an order that put a Flagstaff attorney on the hook for some of a ski resort's costs in a lawsuit targeting snowmaking.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision this week without explanation.
The owners of the Arizona Snowbowl had asked the court to make Howard Shanker pay its costs involving his failed effort to block snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks. The court agreed but excluded attorneys' fees. Snowbowl's lawyers put the amount at $32,000.
Shanker argued that it should have been less. He and others, including consumer advocate Ralph Nader, asked the court to reconsider. They said lawyers who work for free would be less likely to take up contentious issues when faced with such sanctions.
"I guess I've been vindicated, so that's good," Shanker said Thursday.
Shanker sued the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the Save the Peaks Coalition, which argued unsuccessfully that the agency didn't adequately consider the health impacts of using treated wastewater to make snow on the peaks near Flagstaff. Snowbowl intervened.
Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky said Thursday the ski resort has prevailed on every major legal battle and would accept the latest decision from the court, which called Shanker's lawsuit a gross abuse of the judicial process.
"The merits haven't changed," Borowsky said. "The court admonished Howard Shanker, which he'll have to live with for the rest of his legal career. The fact they reversed themselves on charging the costs, we're happy with the court's decision."
Shanker had previously sued for tribes on religious freedom grounds but lost in U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal in 2009.
Shanker has said he neither knowingly nor recklessly raised frivolous arguments in the cases.
He added that his legal pursuits to end snowmaking have ended, "unless legitimate plaintiffs have a valid claim and approach me. I certainly would consider helping them."
Snowmaking is set to begin later this year.
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