Historic impeachment trial starts Wednesday
CARSON CITY – The Nevada Senate scheduled a midweek start for state Controller Kathy Augustine’s impeachment trial, after voting 20-1 Monday to reject a dismissal motion filed by her six attorneys.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, cast the only vote for dismissal. During earlier committee discussion of Augustine’s motion, he said he thought the three articles of impeachment against her “were drawn up before the evidence was gathered.”
After the vote, the two-term Republican controller was called before the Senate and pleaded innocent. She declined to comment afterward. Her trial – the first of its sort in Nevada’s 140-year history – starts Wednesday and could take two to three weeks.
The dismissal motion filed by Augustine’s legal team, headed by Dominic Gentile and John Arrascada, stated the impeachment articles suffer from “duplicity” because more than one offense is included in a single count.
The lawyers also said Augustine’s actions, while inappropriate and misguided, can’t be used to find her guilty of misdemeanor or malfeasance in office.
“Her actions constituted minor transgressions that fall far short of a legitimate basis to impeach her and remove her from the office to which the electorate appointed her,” the motion states.
Former employees who were “extremely biased” against Augustine convinced authorities that she “should be made an example of for doing something that goes on at every level of government during an election year and particularly where the candidate is already holding office,” the motion added.
The former employees also stated that Augustine was abusive, cheap, not very smart, computer-illiterate and just not “a nice person,” the motion stated, adding none of that testimony “is even remotely related to the allegations of malfeasance and misdemeanor in office.”
Special prosecutor Dan Greco countered that Augustine’s attorneys brought up irrelevant court cases to make their legal points, and it’s up to the state Senate to determine the rules in the case.
Greco, responding to questions about a state law that allows some limited use of state equipment for private purposes, also said there’s overwhelming evidence of extensive campaign-related use of the equipment.
He said one employee spent half her state time on campaign work over a six-month period.
Greco also said that in an impeachment proceeding, unlike a criminal case, Augustine doesn’t have “a full panoply of constitutional rights.” While she could be removed from office, he said the controller wouldn’t face the prospect of prison time that a criminal defendant faces.
The legal discussion before the Senate caused concerns for some of the lawmakers who aren’t attorneys. One, Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, asked how the non-lawyers would be able to deal with “a wide divergence of views on fundamental legal principles.”
Augustine faces charges that she should have known that staffers and equipment in her state office staff were used to help in her 2002 re-election campaign. A conviction could result in her being suspended or removed from office.
Augustine previously agreed to a $15,000 fine by the state Ethics Commission and admitted to three counts that she should have known that her employees were working on her campaign during office hours; that the state’s computer system was used for campaign record-keeping; and other office equipment was improperly used.
The controller has been temporarily removed from office until a conclusion of the Senate trial, but continues to draw her $80,000-a-year salary.
The Senate will act as the jury in the trial. A two-thirds vote would be required to remove Augustine from her job. If acquitted, she would return to her elected office for the two years remaining in her current term.