For immediate release
May 2, 2016
Contact: Nick Cady, Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethics Complaint Filed Against State Representatives Over Gray Wolf Delisting Legislation
EUGENE, OR – Today, Cascadia Wildlands submitted a complaint to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission alleging numerous false statements and misrepresentations made by State Representatives Greg Barreto, Brad Witt, and Sal Esquivel in order to secure passage of House Bill 4040 (HB4040) during this spring’s legislative session. HB4040 legislatively removed the gray wolf from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species.
On November 9, 2015, Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to remove gray wolves from the state’s list of endangered species, despite only approximately 80 wolves residing in the state at the time. This decision was widely criticized as unscientific and politically driven, and was challenged by Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and the Center for Biological Diversity in state court. HB4040 referenced the delisting decision, but the three lawmakers, including Rep. Barreto, the bill’s author and sponsor, asserted both in the course of legislative hearings and through documents distributed to other state legislators that HB 4040 would have no impact on judicial review of the commission’s controversial delisting decision.
“Our government is founded upon a system of checks and balances, including access to the courtroom, and these politicians worked overtime to remove our ability to bring this important case in front of a judge,” says Nick Cady, Legal Director with Cascadia Wildlands. “Oregon’s small wolf population and advocates for democracy ended up being the losers.”
Conservation advocates repeatedly warned that HB4040 would in fact undermine the public’s ability to challenge the commission’s wolf delisting decision. However, it was not until after the bill’s passage through Oregon House of Representatives that an inquiry by Oregon’s Legislative Counsel Committee uncovered that the only effect of the bill was to prevent judicial review of the wolf delisting decision.
On April 22, Oregon’s Court of Appeals dismissed the legal case brought by the three conservation organization, specifically stating the “enactment of HB4040 renders the judicial review moot and dismisses the judicial review on that ground.”
ORS 171.764(1) regulating ethical conduct maintains that no public official shall make any false statement or misrepresentation to any legislative or executive official.
“Lawmakers undermine the public’s trust when they mislead their colleagues and make false statements,” says Nick Cady, Legal Director with Cascadia Wildlands. “The Oregon Government Ethics Commission should determine whether Representatives Barreto, Witt, and Esquivel were deliberately mischaracterizing HB4040 in their attempt to fast track the removal of protections for Oregon’s recovering wolf population. The misrepresentations surrounding HB4040 allowed the bill to pass through Oregon’s Legislature, and gray wolves will ultimately pay the price.”
The ethics complaint lists several instances of lawmakers declaring that HB4040 does not undermine judicial review.
If found in violation of ethics laws guarding against false statement or misrepresentation, lawmakers could face civil penalties.