With time running out to appeal the use of eminent domain against Common School Trust lands in Okanogan County, the contentious face-off between Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and Attorney General Rob McKenna is about to come to a head.
Either McKenna blinks, and accedes to Goldmark’s lawful request for legal representation, a concession that could come as early as today, or he plunges our state into a constitutional crisis by forcing Goldmark to take unprecedented legal actions that could ultimately lead to a Supreme Court showdown, and potential disbarment proceedings against McKenna.
And no, I’m not being hyperbolic.
“I am deeply disappointed that Attorney General Rob McKenna has denied my request to appoint a Special Assistant Attorney General that would allow DNR to appeal the use of eminent domain against the Common School Trust in Okanogan County.
As Commissioner of Public Lands, I have a fiduciary responsibility to defend the trust. It is puzzling that our Attorney General will not allow his client’s argument to be heard in court when he already supported trying it in a lower court.
While I am unsure what changed his mind, I hope he changes his mind again and appoints a Special Assistant Attorney General.
It is uncertain if there is a precedent for denying a request for a Special Assistant Attorney General to an agency headed by an independently elected official.”
Don’t be distracted by the measured wording of Goldmark’s press release; this is clearly a threat, and a clear indication that Goldmark has no intention of backing down in the face of his “fiduciary responsibility to defend the trust.” Just as the RCW mandates that McKenna must provide legal representation to Goldmark, the RCW also bars Goldmark from retaining outside counsel. Within days, both of these statutes may be violated, leading to a messy court fight over a court fight.
As a partisan blogger already focusing on the 2012 gubernatorial contest, I’d personally prefer that McKenna maintain his arrogant, illegal and unethical stance. It would be a dramatic, political misstep… but I’m not betting on it. My best guess is that McKenna will momentarily back away from the dark side and assign a Special Assistant Attorney General to DNR, while publicly criticizing Goldmark for ignoring his legal advice. That would be the smart political move, and up until recently, McKenna has proven to be a smart politician.
But if he doesn’t… well… Katie bar the door. So far the media has largely ignored this dispute — I guess they just can’t be bothered to wrap their minds around such complicated legal issues. But they won’t be able to ignore what comes next.