State must not fund defense of Loux

In September, Bob Loux, executive director of the state's Nuclear Waste Project Office -- the outfit charged with blocking federal plans to build a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain -- resigned from office.

Mr. Loux quit after it turned out he'd overspent his state-approved budget by awarding unauthorized 16 percent raises to himself and members of his staff -- raises that also had the effect of increasing the state pensions they could expect.

The Associated Press reported that on Sept. 9, Mr. Loux "apologized to the lawmakers' Interim Finance Committee for giving himself and other agency staffers unauthorized pay increases of up to 16 percent."

Mr. Loux "didn't report the pay increases to the governor and instead signed the paperwork needed to authorize the higher pay," The AP reported.

According to statute, "It is unlawful for any state officer, commissioner, head of any state department or other employee, whether elected or appointed, to expend more money than the sum specifically appropriated by law for any such office, commission or department. ... Every officer of the State of Nevada, elective or appointive, who violates any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of malfeasance in office."

Mr. Loux admitted to the finance committee that he both overspent his budget and approved the unauthorized pay increases. "I take full responsibility for all of these errors," Mr. Loux said. "They were done by me."

Four months later -- this past Tuesday -- Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and Democratic state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto clashed on the issue of whether Ms. Cortez Masto's office should pick up the costs ($20,000, to date) for a private attorney to represent Mr. Loux before the state Ethics Commission.

Ms. Masto said state law requires her office to provide the representation for a state department head -- even a former department head -- unless there's a clear finding that Mr. Loux shouldn't enjoy that benefit. Gov. Gibbons said he believes the legal assistance should be withdrawn.

The contrast with Ms. Cortez Masto's treatment of Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki may be instructive. Mr. Krolicki is also charged with having improperly handled state funds -- for a state college scholarship program -- while Mr. Krolicki served as state treasurer. None of the scholarship money actually went missing -- not a penny -- and no one has charged Mr. Krolicki (unlike Mr. Loux) with trying to enrich himself with those funds. Yet Ms. Masto is prosecuting Mr. Krolicki at the same time she proposes financing Mr. Loux's defense.

The provision for legal representation funded by the attorney general's office is supposed to protect executive officers from being personally bankrupted by lawsuits challenging actions they took in the normal conduct of their duties.

But was Mr. Loux's hijacking of extra taxpayer money to give himself and his buddies unauthorized raises during a recession part of the "normal conduct of Mr. Loux's duties"?

Mr. Loux's apology may fall short of a guilty plea to criminality, but if anything, Ms. Cortez Masto's office should be investigating Mr. Loux's actions, not defending him.

Why should the taxpayers be funding the defense of a man who has already admitted mis-allocating taxpayer dollars to his own benefit?

The governor has this one right.