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Oregon Attorney General won't defend secretary of state over ballot measures

Rosenblum says there's a conflict of interest in representing Clarno.

Posted: Oct 31, 2019 5:44 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is refusing to defend Secretary of State Bev Clarno in litigation over Clarno's rejection of three proposed ballot initiatives to tighten state forestry laws.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that Rosenblum also challenged Clarno's legal basis for tossing the proposals, which Clarno said violated a state requirement that legislative measures stick to one subject. The rule applies equally to voter initiatives and bills in the Legislature.

Rosenblum, a Democrat, said she couldn't represent Clarno, a Republican, because the Oregon Legislature is also a client and she didn't want to make arguments that would impede its work. She said she authorized Clarno to find another lawyer due to the conflicting interests.

"There is no question that, under current law, the legislature could pass a measure such as this one and it would be in full compliance with the 'single subject' requirement," Rosenblum told the newspaper in a statement. "I do not believe there is any compelling reason to argue for a change in the current law."

Clarno's deputy, Rich Vial, declined to answer questions.

Clarno, a Republican who has taken $36,000 in donations from timber interests in her career, is not backing down in a suit brought by environmental advocates trying to ensure their original petitions advance.

She will instead be represented by Schwabe Williamson Wyatt, a Portland law firm that advertises itself as "one of the nation's top timber law practices." The firm says on its website it is "involved" with the Oregon Forest & Industries Council, one of the leading opponents to the ballot measures.

Clarno on Sept. 24 rejected Initiative Petitions 35, 36 and 37. The measures are substantially the same, calling for tightening the state's aerial herbicide spraying laws. They propose more logging restrictions in steep, landslide-prone areas. They would prohibit conflicts of interest for state forestry board appointees.

Clarno rejected the initiatives proposed by environmental advocates, including the group Oregon Wild, saying each of the proposals covered more than one subject. The Oregon constitution says a ballot initiative can only address a single policy topic.

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