Longform

A People Betrayed

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"There was a level at which this was very uncomfortable for me," Wilkinson recalls of his discovery of Boyden's role with Peabody.

"It just turns your stomach," he says. "Reading those letters is sickening."
The letters Wilkinson refers to are correspondence between Boyden and Peabody officials in the 1960s.

Rumors had persisted for years that Boyden was working for Peabody while also representing the Hopi Tribe. But the rumors couldn't be substantiated. Boyden always denied ever working for Peabody, as did the mining company. John Boyden's son and former law partner, Stephen Boyden, maintains that position today.

But files released by the University of Utah library contain letters between Boyden and Peabody officials discussing work Boyden did at Peabody's request. The records include Boyden's billings to Peabody for work done between 1964 and 1971.

While the university file is revealing, it is far from complete.
"We can't tell when the relationship began or when it ended," Wilkinson says.

But what is clear is that there was a close and intimate relationship between Boyden and Peabody.

"The file discloses that Boyden represented Peabody in October 1964 at a hearing in front of the Utah State Land Board; he urged the board to sell Peabody land for a proposed power plant that would use Black Mesa coal," Wilkinson's article in the BYU law review states.

Correspondence and records obtained by New Times show that Boyden wrote a Utah businessman in October 1964 and claimed he was "connected with the company [Peabody]."

In July 1965, Boyden sent a letter to Ed Phelps, Peabody's vice president of engineering, promising to update Phelps after he met with Utah's governor. "I will get together with him and then promptly inform you," Boyden wrote to Phelps.

At the time, Peabody was seeking to obtain water rights from Utah to use in the cooling system of a proposed power plant that would burn Black Mesa coal. Boyden wanted the plant built in Utah.

In September 1965, Boyden wrote Phelps expressing concern that the plant was going to be located in Arizona, near Page, rather than in Utah. The letter clearly underscores Boyden's partnership with Peabody. "Does this mean we are abandoning the possibility of locating the plant in Utah?" Boyden asks.

Perhaps the most revealing letter in the file is a November 1967 letter marked "Personal & Confidential" from Boyden to Phelps in which Boyden states: "I am enclosing a proposed statement to Peabody Coal Company for my work done to date."

The letter requests payment for work dating back three years, to 1964--the year the Hopi, under Boyden's direction, granted Peabody an exploration permit on Black Mesa. The billing itemizes numerous phone calls between Boyden and Phelps as well as a dozen conferences with state and federal officials and private businessmen on Peabody's behalf.

The records do not reveal how much Peabody was paying Boyden for his services, which continued through at least 1971.

New Times faxed copies of several of Boyden's letters to Peabody officials at their Flagstaff headquarters, seeking comment. The company's response confirms that Boyden worked for Peabody during the period (1964-66) in which he negotiated the Black Mesa coal lease on behalf of the Hopi Tribe.

At the same time, Peabody denies Boyden represented the company during lease negotiations with the Hopi.

"The copies of correspondence you sent to us relate to an exploratory project near the Navajo reservation in Utah that had no connection to the Hopi Tribe," Peabody spokeswoman Beth Ulinger states.

Ulinger incongruently adds: "Mr. Boyden did not represent Peabody during the negotiation of the Arizona leases, and we have no knowledge or information to suggest that Mr. Boyden did anything inappropriate."

Boyden's son, Stephen Boyden, also says his father "wasn't representing Peabody at the same time he was representing the Hopi Tribe."

After an initial interview, New Times faxed a copy of John Boyden's 1967 Peabody billing statement to Stephen Boyden for his review. Stephen Boyden, an assistant attorney in the Utah Attorney General's Office, declined to return repeated phone calls seeking comment on those documents.

Legal ethicists say an attorney should, at the very least, fully disclose any potential or actual conflict of interest to a client. There is no indication that Boyden ever disclosed to the Hopi Tribe that he was also representing Peabody in the crucial years leading up to the 1966 signing of the Black Mesa coal and groundwater leases.

Boyden's representation of Peabody and Hopi at the same time is harshly viewed by legal experts.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty