UPDATED 1:45 P.M., JULY 1, 2023 with comments from Commissioner Lorna Smith.
A national sportsmen’s foundation says it has won a state court case challenging the appointment of a controversial member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Lorna Smith’s position on the citizen body overseeing WDFW policies is occurring at the same time she is serving on the Jefferson County Planning Commission, and in March that was challenged in Thurston County Superior Court by the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation.
Today, it appears to have been ruled a violation of state law.
“The judge, Mary Sue Wilson, issued a declaratory judgement that Lorna Smith’s holding of the Jefferson County appointed office is incompatible with appointment and service on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission,” reported the foundation’s Brian Lynn. “In other words, her appointment was in violation of the Fish and Wildlife Commission appointment statute.”
Lynn states that his organization’s attorneys will meet with state of Washington attorneys next week to talk about how to address the violation.
“We are disappointed with this ruling and are considering next steps as we review the decision further,” stated Mike Faulk of the Governor’s Office, which appointed Smith in January 2021.
On Saturday, Smith said she wouldn’t have a personal statement on the matter, but did say, “I understand the judge held Friday morning that a county planning commissioner is a ‘county appointive office.’ The court has not yet made any ruling on the proper remedy for the situation. We are waiting to get a copy of the judge’s written order, and will be evaluating options at that time.”
At issue is Revised Codes of Washington 77.04.040, which specifically states that members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission “… shall not hold another state, county, or municipal elective or appointive office.”
When the lawsuit was launched against Smith, an Inslee spokesman stated, “It’s our understanding that her other position is not one of the disqualifying ‘offices’ under the statute.”
While the foundation had sued Smith, she was defended in court by the state of Washington, meaning on taxpayers’ dime, according to Lynn.
The most likely outcome will be for Smith to simply resign from the Jefferson County post and continue on the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but the episode is emblematic of the tense situation around Washington fish and wildlife management as the Governor’s Office and state politicians put into place the levers to potentially “reform” the body and the agency it oversees.
While it may inspire a counterlawsuit against commission Vice Chair Molly Linville, who serves on the school board of a tiny district in lower Moses Coulee, the Sportsmen’s Alliance declared “victory” in a press release hailing Judge Wilson’s decision.
“We’re very pleased with today’s decision that affirms Ms. Smith has been violating state law for more than two years while crafting policy that undermines scientific wildlife management and damages the state’s traditions of hunting and fishing,” said Todd Adkins, the organization’s vice president of government affairs. “It’s reassuring to see that law still matters in Washington state, something the Fish and Wildlife Commission would do well to remember in the future.”