Nevada Supreme Court justice candidate Kris Pickering said Tuesday night that she notified federal authorities after her campaign manager is alleged to have offered to funnel $200,000 into her war chest last summer if she agreed to remove herself from certain eminent domain cases.
"The proposition was wrong, I reported it and it's in the investigators' hands," said the 56-year-old candidate. "I don't play that game."
Pickering declined to comment further.
Campaign consultant Gary Gray is alleged to have requested that Pickering sign an agreement to remove herself from Supreme Court eminent domain cases involving prominent attorney Laura Fitzsimmons. If Pickering didn't sign the document, the money would go to an opponent, Gray is alleged to have told her.
Pickering refused the offer and notified authorities.
At the time, Pickering faced three opponents: Nancy Allf, Don Chairez and Deborah Schumacher. Pickering and Schumacher advanced to the general election.
KLAS-TV, Channel 8 reported that Fitzsimmons was listed as a host for an upcoming campaign fundraiser for Schumacher.
Schumacher could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
"It's clear there's a political spin put on it," Gray told the Review-Journal Tuesday.
Gray said that investigators told him not to talk about the case. Gray also said he expects a favorable outcome when authorities get all the facts.
When Gray approached Pickering, he explained that other Supreme Court justices had signed similar agreements in the past. That prompted her to ask for evidence, according to Channel 8.
The Channel 8 report also said that Gray provided Pickering with a copy of a document signed by Supreme Court Justice Bob Rose, who stepped down from the bench in 2006.
A woman who answered the phone at Rose's Minden home Tuesday night said the former justice was unavailable for comment.
Pickering fired Gray at about the same time the investigation was launched. Gray has not been charged with any crimes.
Still, there is "absolutely an obligation to investigate" the accusations, said Nancy Rapoport, a Boyd School of Law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
State laws are clear about protecting the integrity of the court system, Rapoport said.
"You can't do anything that makes it look like you can influence a judge," she said. "Why would anyone want to resolve a dispute in court if it's a foregone conclusion that the court is bought and paid for?"
The head of a state watchdog group said that if this maneuver isn't illegal, it should be.
"They've found a loophole in the system to do legal bribery," said Julie Tousa, acting president for the Nevada Center for Public Ethics. "It's backhanded. It's going around the law."
Instead of bribing a justice to vote a particular way -- which would be blatantly unlawful -- a candidate was offered money to not touch certain cases if she's elected, Tousa said. That could skew the system in favor of the attorney doling out the money, Tousa said, especially if another justice has agreed to remove himself from the attorney's cases.
With two justices sitting out, the attorney could win high-court cases on a 3-2 vote instead of a 4-3 vote, Tousa said.
Gray, the husband of Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, has handled his wife's campaigns and has worked for many other successful politicians. As a campaign consultant, he represents mainly Democrats.
Gray is now the campaign manager for Democratic Clark County Commission candidate Steve Sisolak. Fitzsimmons, who has made millions of dollars from successful eminent domain lawsuits, helped Sisolak win a $6.5 million judgment against the county in 2003.
Sisolak sued McCarran International Airport when the airport refused to compensate him after height restrictions diminished the value of his parcel near Las Vegas Boulevard and Warm Springs Road.
Fitzsimmons, who also has contributed heavily to Sisolak's campaign, has been vocal at the state level about eminent domain laws. In 2005, she called a Supreme Court ruling that upheld local governments' rights to seize people's property for private development "a travesty."
Late Tuesday, Sisolak said he hadn't seen or read news reports on the allegations against Gray or Fitzsimmons.
"I'm not seeing how this has anything to do with me," Sisolak said. "I'll sit down with Gary and talk with him in the next day or two."
Commissioner Tom Collins said he plans to stick with Gray for his re-election campaign, arguing that Gray's integrity is above reproach.
"Gary Gray runs the most legitimate campaigns in the state of Nevada," Collins said. "This is a presidential election. There are lots of allegations being made."
Rapoport, the law professor, said she has never encountered anything like this case.
"In my wildest dreams ... I wouldn't have come up with this one," she said. "This is so far beyond anything I'm used to in any jurisdiction I've been in. I'm stunned by the implications."