Emails also show Pflug requested info about progress toward bar exam be kept from Governor’s office
Growth Management Hearing Board member and former Republican state Sen. Cheryl Pflug has yet to be admitted to practice law in Washington, according to the State Bar Association’s public database, a situation that may mean the Central Puget Sound panel of the state’s powerful land-use planning entity is not constituted in accordance with state law.
Also complicating matters is the appearance that in early 2013 Pflug specifically instructed fellow board members and GMHB staff not to share information about her status with senior staff in the office of Gov. Jay Inslee, according to email messages obtained through a public records request.
Though emails sent during her first several months on the board show that Pflug communicated internally with members and staff about taking leave to study for and take the bar exam, in Feb. 18, 2013 she wrote to inform her colleagues of a change of plan due to complications with selling her residence. Pflug wrote:
“Completing this house sale has got to be my priority, but it leaves me concerned about pulling off the Bar exam in the midst of a move – the one thing I didn’t want. I’d rather delay a portion than fail it and give my former colleagues any fodder, so I’m electing to break it into smaller pieces.”
Pflug stated that her goal at that time was to have all parts of the exam taken by the end of July. Board Chair Nina Carter asked Pflug if she wanted to let Inslee’s office in on her new plan.
“Another thought about your bar exam situation… do you want to inform Kelly Wicker or Keith Phillips in the Governor’s office?” Carter wrote to Pflug.
Pflug responded a day later with a lengthy diatribe in which she iterated that her appointing benefactor, Gov. Christine Gregoire, had “determined” that the posting did not require Pflug to be a practicing attorney. She also reacted aggressively to any notion that informing the office of the chief executive was necessary.
“Why would you deem it desirable to inform the governor’s office?” Pflug wrote back, clarifying that she considered the information about how and when she would take the bar exam to be confidential.
“It’s nobody’s business,” Pflug wrote. “And I think we will all benefit from having me stay out of the limelight.” Carter apparently agreed.
“I have not talked with anyone in the governor’s office or outside our office about your bar exam,” Carter wrote on February 21. “And there is no reason to do so!”
A spokesperson for the Governor’s office declined to comment on the specifics of Pflug’s email, saying, “At this point, we don’t have any comment on Gregoire’s decision to appoint Ms. Pflug.”
In a sense, that’s not the dodge it may at first seem because before Pflug was appointed by Gregoire, the issue of her not being a licensed attorney was seen even by members of the governor’s own staff as a significant reason to pass her over for the prime $92,500 a year posting. From an October 2012 Associated Press article:
… Staffers initially determined that Pflug shouldn’t be considered for the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board because she didn’t have a law degree, hadn’t held local elected positions, didn’t have any background in land-use planning and was late to file an application.
“Based on this data – Kim (Tanaka) and I recommend that Pflug not go through the interview process,” wrote Gregoire aide Carol Albert in one email. The note went to Gregoire’s chief of staff, Marty Loesch, and her director of legislative affairs, Jim Justin.
Nevertheless, Pflug’s name was moved forward. Notes from a May 10, 2012 telephone interview conducted by then-Gregoire policy adviser Keith Phillips include the comment “quick learner” and conclude with a cryptic handwritten scribble: “Timing => 21st May…”
In 2012, May 21 fell one week after the filing deadline for legislative elections.
Pflug filed to run for her seat, then withdrew from the race four days after the filing period had closed. It was the same week that Gregoire’s office announced Pflug’s appointment to the GMHB.
Republican officials attested to having no knowledge about the GMHB job, and her 11th hour disappearing act prevented them from fielding a first tier candidate to defend the open seat. Democrat Mark Mullett ended up with a 9-point victory in a district that had been a Republican stronghold since the mid-1980s.
The move was immediately blasted by the Republican chair of Pflug’s district as a politically motivated “sleazy, backroom deal.” Other criticism of Gregoire’s choice was more substantive and focused on whether Pflug was even qualified to fill the post.
As we previously reported, the Washington Administrative Code requires each two-person regional panel of the state’s preeminent land-use planning board to be composed of members who among them meet two specific requirements – one member must have been elected to city or county office and one member must be “admitted to practice law in this state.”
Although fellow Central Puget Sound panelist Margaret Pageler is a former city councilwoman, she is only a judicial member of the WSBA, and ineligible to practice law in Washington.
Pflug did not meet either requirement at the time of her appointment and the Washington State Bar Association’s public database currently contains no entry for Pflug. The WSBA confirmed that their records are updated daily as new information becomes available.
It is unclear whether Pflug has taken any parts of the bar and she declined our request for further information. Similar requests made to the GMHB have not received a response. What is clear is that the land-use hearing panel overseeing disputes in the most populous region of Washington lacks an official member who is presently admitted to practice law, a measure that signifies a current working knowledge of applied law.