By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Graham's case was filed in 1990 and ended in May 1992. The federal district court in San Francisco dismissed Graham's complaint on the technical point that he had no standing to enforce how his gift was spent. The law states that only the state attorney general in any relevant jurisdiction has the right to challenge the application of a gift to a nonprofit. In dismissing the suit Judge Charles Legge was unsparing in his remarks to the Sierra Club's lawyers. He called their litigation tactics "very excessive, terrible... look, you're a charity. A charity. You are litigating against somebody who has given you a substantial sum of money."
The California Attorney General had no stomach for taking on the Sierra Club, but in New Mexico the AG's office was held by Tom Udall, a son of Stewart Udall, who had been U.S. secretary of the Interior in the early to mid-1960s. Udall sued on behalf of the state of New Mexico and was joined in this enterprise by Ganados del Valle, representing the Hispanics and led by community organizer and MacArthur fellow Maria Varela.
This time the suit seemed to be going against the Sierra Club and in December 1995 the Club settled for $900,000, having spent $2 million in legal fees. The $900,000 went to Ganados del Valle, but the money arrived a quarter-century too late. With the advent of Shirley MacLaine and other Hollywood seekers of Southwest chic, plus the arrival of Intel outside Albuquerque, land values soared. What would have bought enough acres for sustainable grazing in 1970 could only get small pastures or sagebrush scrublands 25 years later.
But the Sierra Club wasn't finished. Smarting from their defeat, the Club's officers decided to devote their resources to personal revenge. They have sued Graham for malicious prosecution. Moral: give your money directly to the folks you want to benefit. The trouble is, Graham didn't want to give his money directly to the Hispanics. He wanted a tax write-off, so he had to give his $100,000 to a tax-exempt foundation. Losers: the Hispanics and the land in the Rio Chama valley, now butchered into ranchette subdivisions.