Assembly impeaches controller
The Nevada Senate convenes Friday to receive articles of impeachment charging Controller Kathy Augustine with malfeasance in office and abusing the public trust by running her re-election campaign out of her office two years ago.
The Assembly gave her the dubious honor of becoming the first Nevada constitutional officer ever to be impeached Thursday.
After receiving the articles of impeachment and voting on the governor’s recommendation for her temporary successor, the Senate intends to adjourn for at least 10 days to give her defense time to prepare for a trial.
If convicted, the Senate could, on .a two-thirds vote, remove Augustine from office – making her the first Nevada constitutional officer in history to be removed from office for violations of the law. The Senate could also choose a lesser penalty, including censure, or acquit her of the charges.
The articles of impeachment charge that Augustine used of her staff extensively in her 2002 re-election campaign, effectively coercing several of them into helping her, and used office computers, copiers, phones and printers for campaign functions.
“You can’t require or intimidate employees into campaigning for you,” said Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas in calling for impeachment – which is legally similar to a grand jury indictment. “You can’t ignore, dismiss or retaliate against employees who are concerned about doing campaign work on state time.”
She said testimony showed Augustine had employees do all sorts of campaign work on state time from stuffing envelopes to seeking contributions, doing her campaign paperwork and even giving speeches on her behalf.
“If you are an elected official and you are doing that, you are violating the public trust and we will make that very clear if that’s how we vote today,” Buckley said.
She called on the Assembly to issue three articles of impeachment mirroring the charges Augustine admitted to in stipulating to willful violations of state ethics law before the Nevada Commission on Ethics.
After the formal articles of impeachment were prepared, the 42 members of the Assembly voted unanimously to approve them after which each member signed the articles.
They will be presented to the Senate today by a committee of three – Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick of Gardnerville and Democrats Bernie Anderson of Sparks and Sheila Leslie of Reno. Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said earlier he would choose northern lawmakers so that those who live in the south could go home while the Senate conducts the trial.
Since the Senate will meet only to receive the articles and confirm a temporary replacement for Augustine while the case is decided, only a simple majority of 11 members is needed. That means only enough southern Senators to make a quorum must attend this morning.
Augustine’s lawyer, John Arrascada, charged the attorney general’s office was guilty of conflict of interest in acting as prosecutor and that the evidence against her was “replete with hearsay, innuendo and argument.” He said the proceeding was flawed and that Augustine’s rights were being abused.
“The fairness of the proceeding did not exist,” he said, adding that Deputy Attorney General Gerald Gardner not only testified but acted as prosecutor.
“When you facilitate the evidence and present the witnesses, you are a prosecutor,” he said.
Arrascada said he and co-counsel Dominic Gentile will examine all their options but expect to go to trial in the Senate where both indicated they believe they will have a fair chance to disprove the charges.
“It’s a trial,” said Gentile. “I assume there’ll be rules. Otherwise I don’t know how we’ll evaluate the evidence.”
Augustine’s defense refused to present witnesses to the Assembly, with Gentile charging the attorney general’s participation “polluted” the record in the case.
“We have witnesses and we are going to present them before the Senate,” said Arrascada.
A letter from Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes made it clear the Assembly isn’t bound by the rules of evidence used in a courtroom. She advised lawmakers that, because the impeachment was being conducted just like a legislative committee hearing, they can consider any evidence they choose to in deciding what to do.
Perkins said the “the constitutional rules and restrictions including the formal rules of evidence do not apply.”
“Indeed, an impeachment hearing in the Assembly is no different than any other committee hearing,” he said.
Hettrick said he is comfortable they were “indeed doing this correctly.”