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Judge rules in favor of former lawmaker appointed by Lombardo to lead state agency

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
LegislatureState Government
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A Carson City district court judge has ruled in favor of the former Nevada state senator who was sued earlier this year over claims that his appointment to lead a state environmental agency violated constitutional cooling off periods.

Judge James Wilson ruled in favor of the state and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Director James Settelmeyer last week in a case brought by the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity and a former state employee who contended the appointment of the Republican violated the state constitution'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. It also bars ex-lawmakers from serving in those positions for up to one year after their term ends. 

Settelmeyer spent more than a decade in the Legislature, including 12 years as a senator from 2010 to 2022, and served as minority leader in the 2019 and 2021 sessions. He left office in November after term limits prohibited him from running again, before being appointed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo to lead DCNR in January. 

Although the position of DCNR director had its salary increased twice during Settelmeyer’s final term in office, Wilson wrote in his order that the increase was part of a broad cost-of-living increase meant to keep the position’s salary in line with inflation. 

“A [cost of living adjustment] that is not directed to any particular office is also not within the Emolument Clause’s purpose,” the order stated. “A legislator is not going to undertake a scheme to enact a marginal, across-the-board pay raise merely because he hopes to be appointed to a certain position later.”

In a statement, Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said “we are disappointed in the court's ruling and are currently evaluating our options.” 

“Whatever happens next, we will continue to hold this administration accountable for following the law and stewarding Nevada's precious environment,” he said.

The decision was first reported by the Nevada Current.

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