Judge rules against historic oak


Judge Anne Egeler ruled in Thurston County Superior Court today (Friday, May 31) against a movement to save the historic Davis-Meeker Garry Oak tree that Tumwater mayor Debbie Sullivan has vowed to tear down.

Specifically, she ruled in favor of Sullivan’s motion to dissolve the Temporary Restraining Order which the plaintiff, a group called Save the Davis-Meeker Garry Oak (SDMGO), obtained in an ex parte hearing one week previously, on Fri., May 24.

The judge, who was appointed to the bench in January 2023, in seeking election to her position received endorsement from Mayor Sullivan.

Representing Sullivan was attorney Jeffrey Meyers; Sullivan’s image appeared on a large screen displaying those attending the hearing remotely via Zoom, although she neither spoke nor was seen live in the video.

Representing SDMGO was the group’s attorney, Ronda Larson Kramer. Members of SDMGO, including some who are also elders in the Cowlitz Tribe, attended the hearing in person.

No proper notice

Meyers argued that the plaintiff had failed to give the mayor proper notice prior to the ex parte hearing, and for that reason the TRO should be invalid. Kramer did in fact give prior notice by calling city attorney Karen Kirkpatrick and leaving a voicemail stating her intention. Meyers later qualified his argument, stating that the voicemail was insufficient notice.

He did not address the fact that the mayor’s plans to have the tree removed during the Memorial Day Weekend “when everyone is out of town” was the reason necessitating the emergency hearing last Friday morning, nor the fact that the mayor had not made her intentions known, and SDMGO only learned of the plan the night before (Thurs., May 23).

Supporters of the Davis-Meeker Oak in Tumwater have put up numerous signs around the site of the historically significant tree. The signs depicted on the ground read "Save the Tree Move the Road," and "Let freedom ring."
Supporters of the Davis-Meeker Oak in Tumwater have put up numerous signs around the site of the historically significant tree. The signs depicted on …

Meyers alleged that the TRO lacked any “finding of harm. There is no finding of what injury the plaintiffs would suffer. There is no finding as to why any such harm would be irreparable.”

Tribal significance and history

He made these arguments in spite of the plaintiff’s numerous declarations filed with the court answering these questions. It is unclear how destroying the historic tree (which has ecological and historical protections, as well as significance to the Cowlitz and other Native Tribes) would not involve harm. The multiple injuries were spelled out in the plaintiff’s declarations and other filings. The fact that once torn down the tree would be gone forever identifies the irreparable nature of the harm.

The attorney for the defense also claimed that “there were no findings regarding the public interest and the threat to public safety that is posed by the unfortunately dying Davis-Meeker Oak.” Public input about the fate of the tree has been overwhelmingly in support of preserving the historically registered oak, as the plaintiff pointed out in its documents filed with the court. The tree is not, in fact, dying, as numerous arborists with decades of experience in the field and in some cases with this tree in particular, have stated.

As for the claim of threat to public safety, the plaintiff had filed expert testimonies of arborists who pointed out in detail the numerous flaws in the city arborist’s report claiming danger where it does not exist.

The declarations also documented from public record that the mayor’s staff had told the city’s insurer that the tree “is very dead,” which it is not. Furthermore, the city attorney had claimed that the insurer recommended that the tree be taken down, but the insurer documented that their agency never suggested such a thing.

The judge inquired of Meyers what the city’s intention would be should the TRO be dissolved.

He replied that the city already has a contractor to remove the tree, and that the city’s “intention is to notify the contractor to remobilize and remove the tree in a similar fashion as time allows. My suspicion is that that will be a matter of a couple of days.”

Meyers closed by suggesting that damages against the plaintiff be set at $140,000 for cost of closing Hwy. 99 (in the case that the tree would fall while the TRO is in effect) and “$10 million to protect the city against the liability that cannot prevent because of” the TRO. He hypothesized that a child and mother could be killed if the tree were to fall into the street.

Kramer presented the numerous reasons why the tree should be preserved, including city, state, and federal laws that would be violated should the mayor have the tree cut down (see related article). She went over reasons from the presence of the federally protected kestrels nesting in the oak to tribal interests (with the tribes not receiving sufficient notice and opportunity to provide input) and city historical register and state archaeological agency codes.

After hearing both attorneys speak, Egeler immediately said she was ready to rule. She ruled in favor of the mayor’s motion to dissolve the TRO.

“Under the law, a party requesting a temporary restraining order must show three things, a clear legal or equitable right, a well-grounded fear of immediate invasion of that right, and that the act complained of will result in actual and substantial injury to the moving party. All of these requirements have to be met, and the plaintiffs have not met the first criteria,” the judge said.

Defenders of the Davis-Meeker Oak have tied a yellow ribbon 'round the old (400 years old) oak tree and attached a copy of the Temporary Restraining Order protecting the tree from Tumwater Mayor Debbie Sullivan's plans to cut it down.
Defenders of the Davis-Meeker Oak have tied a yellow ribbon 'round the old (400 years old) oak tree and attached a copy of the Temporary Restraining …

While Myers had previously stated that the city might remove the tree as soon as Monday morning, Egeler noted that such a time frame would not allow the plaintiff to appeal the decision at the next level. She therefore declared that the temporary restraining order will expire on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m.

Following the hearing, Kramer met with members of SDMGO, including elders of the Cowlitz tribe, to discuss next steps. She said that she will be filing an appeal, although if the tribes could provide the fees for an attorney who specializes in this type of case, it would make the appeal stronger.

She also -- on the advice of a colleague -- may file to have the case removed to federal court because of the federal laws involved in the case.

The Cowlitz tribe elders discussed the possibility of filing a suit of their own for a restraining order, given the importance of the tree to their tribe and other area tribes. They said that this week both their tribe and the Nisqually are holding tribal leadership elections, so it would be difficult for the tribes to file lawsuits in time to stop the tree’s demise after 5 p.m. Wed., June 5.


18 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • JHermes

    Hope she doesn't like being mayor.

    Friday, May 31 Report this

  • JasonS

    Hope she's good at masking questionable financial "windfalls".

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • BevBassett

    Airport expansion is the only possible explanation for removal of this tree. No other explanation holds a drop of water. Only a few minor obstacles stand in the way of airport expansion and this big old tree is at the top of the list of obstacles that are being systematically eliminated by a Tumwater Mayor Sullivan and the 6-figure salaried former Port of Olympia employee Lisa Parks who are steamrolling these obstacles out of the way of what they see as 'progress'...

    Imagine for a moment how many billions and billions of dollars in wealth and profits will be reaped by special interests when the airport is expanded. There'll be 6-figure salaries in the future for Mayor Sullivan and Operative Parks, among others--just wait and see. Quiet investors will swoop down upon this little airport and turn it into a 'world class' investment object. I can feel their hot breath breathing down our necks as they prepare to eliminate the last few irritating little obstacles such as endangered species and 400 year old trees.

    No majority vote in the Tumwater City Council for removing the tree: not a problem. Legal impediments such as 100+ year old laws regarding migratory birds and endangered species: F 'em. Deny, lie, bulldoze your way past the people who elected you to represent them and their best interests and the best interests of their children: screw 'em.

    Voters in Pakistan and India have had problems getting to the polls to vote in recent elections due to higher than normal heat: 50 degrees celsius in Pakistan today. That's equal to 122 degrees fahrenheit. Planet earth is burning up faster and faster the more fossil fuels we burn. Expanding airports and using more jet fuels contributes mightily to this warming. How would you feel if the temperature here in Thurston County hit 122 degrees? What effect would it have on your garden? On your food supply?

    Citizens in Thurston don't want airport expansion and even people who have never before held up a sign or protested anything around here before have protested plans to expand the Olympia Airport. What we want is rapid rail and public transit that lets us ditch our cars! But no, we're gonna have Airports and airport expansion shoved down our throats whether we want it or not because it's how the rich will get richer and that includes the disgusting fossil fuel companies who are destroying our lives and taking away our futures for the sake of their filthy oil.

    And Mayor Sullivan and Lisa Parks are their puppets on a string. Watch them dance. See them smile.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • BradPax

    Is it dying and therefor dangerous or is it plenty healthy? What's the truth here? One thing is for certain, it's a majestic treasure that should be preserved if preservable.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • DeeperThoughts

    Many things are unfortunate about how this court case was handled. First, if there has not been a prior discretionary ruling by Judge Egler on this matter and it was known to counsel that Mayor Sullivan has publicly endorsed her, the plaintiff's counsel should have filed a motion to disqualify her under RCW 4.12.050. Second, Judge Egler had an obligation under the WA State Code of Judicial Conduct to recuse herself if there is any reason for her "impartiality to be questioned." Clearly that is present here and it is unknown what level of support, financial or otherwise Mayor Sullivan will contribute to her election campaign moving forward. I for one will not be voting for this judge with questionable ethics.

    This was not even a close call and only goes to bolster claims of collusion and corruption that Mayor Sullivan and City Administrator Lisa Parks seem well versed at. The only thing that will stop the tree from being demolished at this point is the Cowlitz or Nisqually Tribes filing suit in Federal court. If this tree truly has the cultural significance it appears to the Tribes, they need to step in immediately. Mayor Sullivan and Lisa Parks have now been caught in several different stories about their decisions on the tree. Lisa Parks is on record of apologizing for the "confusion" about how this was handled. A convenient and disingenuous statement at best. Now we learn the insurance company never ordered the tree removed. We learn there was false information provided to the insurance company on the health of the tree, we learn Mayor Sullivan and Parks had already sought out a tree company to destroy the tree in February while putting on a show that no decision had been made, the list goes on. Combine this with the cloak of secrecy, lack of transparency, and intentional disregard for public input, council input, input from the Tribes, and input from the city's own historical commission and the bigger picture becomes clear. Mayor Sullivan has proven to be an authoritarian dictator and has no place in a leadership position and neither does Parks. Pray the Tribes come through to save this tree. That very well may be the last option left unless the Audubon society gets involved.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • KellyOReilly

    I am so disgusted and appalled by the corruption of Sullivan, Parks, and Egeler! Their actions spit in the faces of the Tribes and those of us in Thurston County who believe this historic old tree should be saved. I agree with other comments above, especially BevBassett.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    As always, Bev Bassetts comments shine!

    This debacle Smackes of the Past Port of Olympia Mismanagment.

    Costing the People of Thurston County trust in it's Processes and LOSS OF HABITAT, AND HISTORY!

    WE NEED someone to Climb into that Tree and be willing to Block it's Cutting.

    Able ACTIVISTS UNITE Save the Meeker Oak!


    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • wolfmanner

    Hopefully she loses her election. So this judge is buddies with the fool of a mayor also.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • TheGreatAnon

    This is editorial, not journalism. I respect those who have worked hard to preserve this magnificent tree but the rhetoric of this 'article' is clearly biased. The Judge didn't rule for or against one anybody, they made their ruling in according to the dictates of law and regulations concerning the issues raised.

    It sucks but sometimes you lose.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • longtimeresident

    The issues raised by the mayor and her sidekick Lisa lack any credibility. And, for what it's worth, this story has gone viral, and has been on the news in South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas and Alaska, as well as in other states. The mayor is a fool.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • longtimeresident

    Another suggestion has come up on Nextdoor about to why this tree needs to be removed, and it is because there are plans to turn the current 2 lane highway that passes by the Davis-Meeker Tree, into a 3 or 4 lane highway to accommodate some planned commercial development further down the road. If this is the real reason for removing the tree, why can't someone in the Mayor's office say so. A story about the "conflict" between the mayor and supporters of Save the Tree appeared in the May 28 issue of PEOPLE magazine. It certainly is getting publicity.

    Saturday, June 1 Report this

  • 52237123abc

    The mayor does not plan to run again. She has been suckered into this by Parks who will profit from the airport expansion!

    Sullivan doesn’t care!

    Why isn’t the Tumwater City Council listening to their voters?? Do they not care?

    Sunday, June 2 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    Hopefully people are starting to see how democratic institutions do not really act in peoples interests and should not have exclusive control of the land.

    Sunday, June 2 Report this

  • FordPrefect

    There’s been plenty of great information given by an expert arborist on how to safely mitigate the risk of this tree without removing it.

    So if it’s not a safety hazard, then it’s gotta be that pesky airport that hates the tree…think again.

    It doesn’t make sense that this tree has to go to expand the airport. Take a look at the Preferred Development Alternative in the Olympia Airport Master Plan:


    The Davis Meeker Oak is visible and clearly outside the runway protection zone and not in the way of any other planned airport development.

    If they want to widen Old Hwy 99 there’s plenty of room on the other side of the street to do so. The city wouldn’t even need to impose imminent domain because the old Bonniewood Dr SE intersection plot is still theirs.

    So this isn’t about the widening the road, airport expansion or public safety. We just have a stubborn mayor who doesn’t want to back down from a dumb idea. Let’s hope that she’s struck with a bout of uncommon sense before the saws go to work.

    Monday, June 3 Report this

  • knotfarm

    If the tree is taken down, the true state of its health and condition will be obvious. Will the City allow you and I to see it or will it be concealed?

    Monday, June 3 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    This should be labled as an opinion column. There's clear bias coming from the author. And the subtle insinuation that the judge owes the Mayor a favor or something is clearly trying to fuel the narrative against removing the tree. Can we get an unbiased analysis of this issue?

    Monday, June 3 Report this

  • GFelsen

    This area was heavily forested prior to the 1850's. Since the clearing of land for homesteading and agriculture, along with commercial logging, untold numbers of centuries-old trees have been cut down, healthy or not.

    The frenzy over this one tree is not only silliness, but it distracts from managing and growing our city. We have parks everywhere and one can go and enjoy the trees there. I suggest few of these 'complaintiffs' knew anything about this 'historic' tree prior to a month ago.

    Monday, June 3 Report this

  • 52237123abc

    Where are the City Council members? Are they afraid to step forward and join their City Council residents? Their silence makes them complicit to clearing the way for the port. Are they more for this than they have let on?

    I would think we would hear from each of them….its as if they are hiding. I’m amazed at how much power Lisa Parks has…..I hope someone can stop her as it won’t end here. Speak up council members so we know how to vote next election!!

    Mean, unyielding, and self serving administrator, mayor and questionable city council.

    Monday, June 3 Report this