Bob Leal

CARSON CITY, Nev. (CN) — Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo was sued Monday by the Center for Biological Diversity and a former state employee challenging the Republican governor's appointment of former state Senator James Settelmeyer as director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Nevada’s Constitution bars legislators from being appointed to any paid state position if, during their term, the legislature voted to increase the salary of that position, the organization said in the lawsuit. Settelmeyer, a Republican, served in the legislature from 2007 to 2022, and was in office when the legislature voted to increase the salary of the conservation agency’s director in 2021. The lawsuit seeks to have him removed as the agency's director.

“It seems a pretty open and shut case. The constitution is very explicit about this being a prohibited appointment,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center.

“The attorney general said, ‘Well, it doesn’t count because it was just a cost of living adjustment and it was less than the inflation rate,’” Donnelly said, referring to Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford. “I’m not sure that’s what the authors of the Nevada Constitution were envisioning.”

Donnelly said the appointment of the former state legislator alarmed the conservation organization "because of his long track record of anti-environmental stances and voting. But it’s really this constitutional issue that gave us an avenue for this intervention."

He continued: “Nevada’s climate policies and biodiversity protections are too important to leave in the hands of someone as clearly unsuited to lead the state’s conservation agency as Senator Settelmeyer,” Donnelly said. “Governor Lombardo broke the law in making this appointment, and we’re taking him to court to hold him accountable.”

Settelmeyer has opposed significant climate legislation, public lands protections, protecting water and efforts at increasing the budget of the agency he now wants to direct, according to Donnelly.

John Walker, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is a Douglas County resident who retired from the state conservation agency in 2013 after 15 years of service. Walker, a career civil servant and a resident of Settelmeyer’s former senate district, said in a news release that public servants who lave led the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have historically "risen from within the agency or otherwise gained proven experience in the executive branch of government."

“I’m saddened to see this successful formula undone by this appointment. The department exists to preserve and protect our natural resources and that most worthy mission should never by politicized.”

Las Vegas-based attorney Bradley Schrager of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman and Rabkin is representing the organization and Walker. Schrager’s work includes defending voting rights and pushing back when government officials skirt the law.

“The Nevada Constitution has a strict prohibition on appointments like Senator Settelmeyer’s, and features a cooling-off period for legislators when they seek government positions whose salary or benefits have increased during their most recent term,” Schrager said. “This appointment clearly violates that provision. He should resign or the governor should rescind his appointment, or the courts will address Settelmeyer’s ineligibility through this lawsuit.”

The governor's office could not be reached for comment by press time Monday.

“I think this is about accountability," Donnelly said. "Governor Lombardo was elected and almost his first act in office was to break the law and appoint a climate denier to lead the state’s climate agency. We have a tremendous climate regulatory system in this state. Governor Sisolak made tremendous strides in creating a climate regime to beat climate change,” Donnelly of Steve Sisolak, the state's former Democratic governor .