OLYMPIA – The Washington State Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 that Attorney General Rob McKenna must file an appeal as requested by the state Commissioner of Public Lands, despite the fact that an Okanogan Superior Court considered and ruled against the Commissioner’s position and despite the Office of the Attorney General’s judgment that the appeal was not in the legal interest of the state of Washington. In its ruling, the court pointed to a specific statute pertaining directly to the Commissioner’s authority to direct legal action.
“It’s important to note that disagreements between the Attorney General’s Office and its clients over legal strategy are exceedingly rare and that the court today relied on a specific statute governing the Commissioner’s authority to direct legal action,” McKenna said. “We continue to study this decision and are concerned about the apparent inconsistencies between prior Supreme Court precedent and today’s ruling in City of Seattle, rulings which recognize the Attorney General has broad discretion to direct legal action in the best interest of the state as a whole.
Deputy Solicitor General Alan Copsey argued the case on behalf of Attorney General McKenna.
In the underlying case, the Attorney General’s Office represented the Commissioner in a lawsuit filed by the Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County seeking to condemn an easement to install and maintain a power line through public and private lands in the Methow Valley. The Public Utility District won the case and the Commissioner of Public Lands asked the Attorney General’s Office to appeal the decision on his behalf. After careful consideration, the Attorney General’s Office declined the request to appeal.
The decision not to appeal the Okanogan County Superior Court ruling was based, as all of the Attorney General’s Office’s appellate decisions are, on whether legal error was made by the trial court judge, consideration of the trial court record, and the potential effect of an appeal on the legal interests of the state as a whole. This process for handling appeals has been in place for many years.
With today’s decision, the Commissioner’s appeal of the superior court decision may now proceed.
Goldmark v. McKenna decision
Contacts: Janelle Guthrie, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725