Angry day at the Legislature
The Assembly will vote on whether to impeach Controller Kathy Augustine today after her legal counsel said Wednesday they would not put on a defense case.
Deputy Attorney General Gerald Gardner told the Assembly Augustine “literally ran her campaign” out of the controller’s office in 2002, pressing her employees into service and using state equipment and facilities.
Gardner was the first to testify as the Assembly began hearing testimony into whether Augustine should be impeached and removed from office during the 21st special session of the Nevada Legislature, which began Wednesday.
But Gardner’s testimony drew a sharp objection from Augustine’s lawyer Dominic Gentile, who said Gardner had no business putting his report from the criminal investigation into evidence.
“The fact you just had Mr. Gardner testify on exhibit 41 has totally polluted this matter,” he said. “Given the pollution, I’m not going to contribute anything to this record.
“We’re done,” he said.
An angry Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, called a recess to confer not only with Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, but Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick R-Gardnerville and others. Several members confirmed they came close to calling for a vote to impeach on the spot. But, instead, they decided to hold off until today and take testimony from Ethics Commission Director Stacy Jennings.
After Jennings testifies, Perkins will probably offer Augustine a chance to testify but if the answer is no, a vote to impeach could be held before noon and Augustine’s case sent to the Senate for trial.
Gentile said the attorney general’s investigative report “shouldn’t even be in this.”
But several other members of the Assembly – both Republican and Democrat – said the Legislature isn’t bound by courtroom rules of evidence and can make anything it chooses part of the record.
Augustine has already stipulated to three willful violations of the ethics statutes and fined $15,000. Perkins advised all sides early in the meeting that he intended to keep the discussion close to those three charges.
“She literally ran her campaign headquarters out of the Nevada state Capitol, used and misused state computers, used and misused state facilities and used and misused and abused state employees,” said Gardner, who handled the investigation of Augustine’s activities for the attorney general’s office.
Gardner said it wasn’t just a small amount of work, that more than one employee put in a number of hours working on the campaign and her executive assistant Jennifer Normington put in the majority of her time on the campaign, not state business.
“And her demeanor and treatment of her employees led them to believe they had no choice but to do her work,” he said.
His testimony was backed by several former employees including former chief deputy Jim Wells, deputy Jeanine Coward, Normington and her predecessor as executive assistant Susan Kennedy. They described a hostile work environment punctuated by numerous temper tantrums where Augustine yelled and threw things, demanding campaign work be done on state time in her office and making veiled threats that if employees didn’t help her get re-elected they wouldn’t have a job.
She said the 2002 campaign ended up being her priority, not state business and that she spent many hours organizing fund-raisers, getting mailing lists together, sending out contribution letters, tracking expenses and contributions and even making appearances on Augustine’s behalf at campaign events.
“I came to realize I was spending most of my official hours working on the controller’s campaign,” said Normington.
Wells and Coward also said they believed Normington was spending half or more of her time on campaign matters rather than state business.
Former Chief Accountant of Operations Michelle Miles said she had to assign some of Normington’s duties to another employee because the campaign work was taking so much time.
There was similar testimony from several other witnesses.
“I never felt my work on the campaign was voluntary,” Kennedy said.
Coward said she ended up taking controller’s office work home “because I was expected to do campaign work during office hours.”
Normington said when she appeared on Augustine’s behalf, she was told no matter what kind of event it was she should carry contribution envelopes and remind the audience to vote for her.
Kennedy too said she solicited campaign contributions for Augustine on state time.
The Assembly will decide whether to issue articles of impeachment against Augustine – legally similar to a grand jury indictment. If the Assembly does so – by a simple majority – the case moves to the Senate where Augustine would be tried.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, told his colleagues Wednesday rules for how the Senate will conduct that trial have not yet been finalized but that the Senate will also consider Augustine’s case as a committee of the whole.
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