New legal counsel appointed to Wisconsin DNR

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has appointed a lawyer from a conservative public interest litigation group to be the state Department of Natural Resources’ new chief legal counsel.

Jake Curtis’s appointment is the first time the department has hired an outside lawyer to handle legal issues. Curtis has been an attorney for nearly 10 years and joined the department on Monday. He replaces attorney Quinn Williams, who has moved to the Department of Administration.

The appointment is troubling because Curtis lacks experience in fish and game laws, tribal relations and state and federal pollution laws, said former DNR Secretary George Meyer. Meyer was secretary from 1993 to 2001 and oversaw the department’s enforcement unit for a decade.

“He does not have good background in all those areas,” Meyer said, who is executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “His major experience had been a philosophical, political bent on legislative matters. You are going to tend to get a lot more political decisions.”

DNR spokesman Jim Dick said he thinks Curtis’ professional experience is “impressive.”

Curtis previously worked for the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s Center for Competitive Federalism. He also served as a Wisconsin adviser to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

Curtis could bring a fresh viewpoint to the department, said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s Center.

“He also is sort of astute and mature and has enough judgment to know how to come in from the outside and manage to change directions without causing the type of consternation that could get in the way of doing that,” Esenberg said.

Walker and the Legislature made the legal counsel post a politically appointed position in 2011.

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