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NDOW biologist files for bankruptcy after losing lawsuit against Tahoe bear activists

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Carl Lackey, the Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist who sued bear advocates in 2017, has declared bankruptcy in federal court.

Lackey declared $158,000 in unsecured debt – the amount he owes Mark Smith and Carolyn Stark after losing the lawsuit he filed against the two.

Lackey could have been on the hook for more than $250,000, but District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer reduced the damages to less than $200,000.

Lackey lists as an asset of a nearly $900,000 home in Minden. He also listed his NDOW salary at $76,128 and an unknown retirement value.

Along with the bankruptcy filing, Lackey also has a GoFundMe for “incurred debts as a result of litigation between himself and anti-hunting interests who opposed his work as a wildlife biologist, particularly his advocacy of bear hunting.”

That’s not the whole story. 

Lackey sued Smith and Stark for comments others made on the “NDOW Watch: Keeping Them Transparent” and “Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame” Facebook pages.  

He alleged Stark and Smith encouraged others to shame and harass him. 

The two sought dismissal of the case with an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion. An anti-SLAPP motion is used to seek the quick dismissal of cases that attempt to stifle free speech.

“There has been much public interest in [NDOW’s and Lackey’s] handling of the bears that are captured in the Lake Tahoe area, and then releasing the bears into a strange territory, which also happens to be areas where [NDOW] issues bear hunting licenses,” Stark and Smith responded. “By filing this lawsuit claiming defamation and significant damages, Mr. Lackey apparently feels that he can shut these Defendants up and stop their free speech, as well as shut up all the people on Facebook that made comments as well.”

Despite hints he would lose the case on free-speech grounds, and the case twice going to the Nevada Supreme Court, Lackey persisted litigating for years. The defendants said that meant they had to continue to pay legal fees. At one point, after losing the case, Lackey’s attorney’s then tried to argue he shouldn’t have to pay damages and attorney costs.

“The protracted nature of the litigation in this case was largely the result of Lackey’s insistence of conducting discovery in response to the anti-SLAPP motion – discovery which the Court indulged at length, but which bore no fruit for Lackey,” Smith argued. “Lackey could have only sued the people who made the statements about him about which he complained.”

The case took more than five years to resolve, with Steinheimer ultimately ruling in favor of the defendants and their anti-SLAPP motion. That ruling also meant Lackey had to pay their attorney fees and damages, which he is seeking to avoid paying.

“When you bring an ill-fated defamation claim here, you run a very significant risk for your client. In a case like this one, where they fought over every little thing, up and down the appeals process, the plaintiffs’ lawyers should have seen this end coming a mile away,” Las Vegas attorney Marc Randazza told This Is Reno last year. 

The fight is not over. 

Judge Steinheimer recently granted Stark’s motion requiring Lackey to appear under oath to discuss his property and assets. Lackey also faces a SLAPP-back lawsuit in Douglas County, in which the defendants are seeking additional damages from Lackey.

The NDOW Watch Facebook page last week commented on Lackey’s GoFundMe campaign. 

“He lost. We prevailed. He now has a Judgement [sic] against him for close to 160K because he frivolously sued,” a post noted.

Lackey’s GoFundMe raised $26,000, of a $150,000 goal, at the time of publication.

Disclosure: Attorney Luke Busby, representing Smith, is This Is Reno’s attorney in two public records lawsuits against the City of Reno and Reno Police Department.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.

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