Agency senior attorney to depart |

Agency senior attorney to depart

Just as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is facing four court challenges to its policies, the environmental agency will lose an attorney who has overseen two long-running legal battles.

Susan Scholley, who became the TRPA’s first in-house counsel in 1985, will leave the agency at the end of March, she confirmed on Wednesday.

While Scholley has supervised the agency’s defense of a lawsuit filed by the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council for more than a decade, the TRPA is ready to hire a new law firm to take over the case. On Wednesday, the agency’s board agreed to interview three finalists in its search for a firm to continue the preservation council suit, and another land-use lawsuit filed by Bernadine Suitum of Sacramento County.

“We’re selecting very high quality outside counsel that will pick up the issues,” said Jim Baetge, TRPA’s executive director. “Her departure will be a tremendous loss to the agency, and we will also be losing someone who knows the history of the agency.”

Scholley, 45, is moving to New Jersey with her husband, Jim Rankle, who was promoted by Harrah’s as its general counsel for Atlantic City and its Midwest riverboat casinos. Rankle was the associate general counsel for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.

A graduate of the University of San Diego Law School, Scholley moved here with her husband in 1978 while awaiting test results from the California Bar exam.

“We moved up here to be ski bums after taking the bar exam,” Scholley said.

She tended bar for two winters at Heavenly Ski Resort before dealing blackjack and craps at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe for four years.

Scholley then passed the Nevada Bar exam and was hired in 1983 by the Carson City law firm of Shaw, Heaton, Doescher and Owen, which performed contract work for the TRPA. Her work for the agency led to her hiring as the TRPA’s first legal counsel in 1985.

Larry Hoffman, a Tahoe City attorney who has opposed Scholley in numerous legal challenges of the TRPA’s regulations, said the loss of Scholley will complicate the agency’s ability to defend itself from the Suitum and preservation council lawsuits.

“I think she’s the house intellectual,” Hoffman said. “She’s a straight shooter and a person of integrity, and there clearly will be a gap in the agency’s ability.”

Rachelle Nicolle, the TRPA’s lead attorney, said the agency has discussed keeping Scholley as a long-distance consultant to guide new attorneys through the complex lawsuits heading to court this year.

On Wednesday, the agency’s governing board agreed to interview three law firms that were the finalists of 23 firms that expressed interest in representing the TRPA in the land-use challenges. On Feb. 9, the board will interview representatives of Remy, Thomas & Moose of Sacramento; Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger of San Francisco; and McDonough, Holland & Allen of Sacramento.

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