Russ Brooks, lawyer who challenged salmon protections, dies at 41

February 27, 2007

By Gene Johnson (Associated Press Legal Affairs Writer)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Seattle, Washington

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Seattle, Washington - Russell C. Brooks, an attorney best known for challenging Endangered Species Act protections for salmon, steelhead and orcas -- protections he deemed government overreaching -- has died of a heart attack, the Pacific Legal Foundation said Tuesday. He was 41.

Brooks, who headed the foundation's Northwest office in Bellevue, died Sunday.

The foundation "has lost a valued friend and a superb attorney, and America has lost one of the leading courtroom defenders of constitutional property rights, limited government, and a balanced approach to environmental protection," its president, Rob Rivett, said in a news release.

Brooks handled many important lawsuits in the Northwest. He won a federal court challenge in Oregon in 2001 -- the Alsea Valley Alliance case -- that said federal officials couldn't protect wild coho salmon off the coast of Oregon if they did not also protect the hatchery fish swimming next to them.

"The government's arbitrary low-balling of the salmon count was harmful to landowners, because the government restricted land use to protect fish that weren't actually in danger, and injurious to fishermen because it led bureaucrats to mandate unnecessarily low limits on salmon catches," the Pacific Legal Foundation said in the statement.

Brooks continued to represent the Alsea Valley Alliance, a coalition of sport fishermen, and was to argue in federal court in Eugene, Oregon, in April that all 16 Endangered Species Act listings for salmon in the West should be invalidated on the grounds that federal officials are not properly counting hatchery fish when determining if a species needs protection.

"Russ was critically important to us, and he was critically important to the property rights movement," said Timothy Harris, general counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW). "He believed in fighting for the rights of property owners against government intervention. It's a tremendous blow to our industry and to people in the state of Washington."

Brooks represented the BIAW and farm groups in challenging Endangered Species Act protection of Puget Sound orcas. U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly dismissed the case with prejudice last December, saying the groups had not shown they would be harmed by the orca listing.

He also intervened on behalf of the Bush administration when environmental groups challenged the weakening of rules governing pesticide use. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour sided with the environmentalists, saying the weakening of the pesticide rules reflected a "total lack" of scientific justification.

Brooks also argued before the Washington Supreme Court against the Seattle School District's use of race in determining high school admissions. That policy is now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brooks joined the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, in 1999, after graduating from the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif. He is survived by his wife, Rhonda; a 5-year-old son, Austin; and a 2-year-old daughter, Savannah.


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