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Environmental group sues over ex-lawmaker’s appointment to lead agency

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
State Government
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Former state Sen. James Settelmeyer was sued late Monday over his gubernatorial appointment to lead Nevada’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), a move an environmental group contends violates the Nevada Constitution. 

The lawsuit filed in Carson City District Court by the Center for Biological Diversity and John Walker, a former member of the state’s Environmental Commission, also names Gov. Joe Lombardo and the DCNR as defendants. The suit was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 

In a seven-page complaint, the plaintiffs argue that Settelmeyer’s appointment violated cooling off periods stipulated by the state Constitution for certain offices. 

Settelmeyer spent more than a decade as a Republican state lawmaker, including 12 years as a state senator from 2010 to 2022 and a brief stint as minority leader in 2019. He left office in November under term limits before being appointed by Lombardo to lead DCNR two months later in January. 

The appointment immediately raised constitutional concerns among some outside legal observers who pointed to a potential conflict in the state’s emoluments clause. Under the clause, legislators cannot be appointed to a “civil office of profit” either created under their term of office, or which has had its salary increased during that term. 

The clause also bars ex-lawmakers from serving in those positions for up to one year after their term ends. 

Though the DCNR directorship has existed for decades, its salary was increased twice during Settelmeyer’s final term in office, including in 2019 and 2021.

In a press release, Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Great Basin director, criticized Settelmeyer’s political opposition to climate and public lands bills, calling him “clearly unsuited to lead the state’s conservation agency.” 

“Gov. Lombardo broke the law in making this appointment, and we’re taking him to court to hold him accountable,” Donnelly said. 

Asked for comment on the suit by The Nevada Independent, Lombardo Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer said in a statement: "

“We have great confidence in Director Settelmeyer and look forward to defending his appointment.”

Update: 2/13/23 at 5:50 p.m. - This story was updated to include comment from Ben Kieckhefer, chief of staff to Gov. Joe Lombardo.

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