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Judge tosses lawsuit challenging Nevada lawmakers with public jobs

Updated November 18, 2020 - 6:38 pm

A Clark County judge has dismissed a lawsuit from a conservative think tank that challenged the ability of several sitting state lawmakers to serve in the Legislature while holding public jobs.

In a minute order Wednesday, District Judge Jim Crockett said that the Nevada Policy Research Institute “clearly lacks standing” to bring the challenges against the lawmakers.

NPRI filed the lawsuit in July alleging that nine public employees — including Democratic leaders Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro — cannot hold both elected positions and public jobs under the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

Robert Fellner, NPRI’s vice president and policy director, said Wednesday evening that they intend to appeal Crockett’s decision.

“The judiciary has an obligation to ensure the constitutional limits imposed upon government are enforced,” Fellner said.

Cannizzaro and fellow Democratic state Sen. Melanie Scheible both work as deputy district attorneys in Clark County, while Frierson and Sen. James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, work as deputy public defenders. Assemblywomen Selena Torres and Brittney Miller, both D-Las Vegas, work for the Clark County School District; Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert, R-Reno, works for the University of Nevada, Reno; and Assemblyman Glen Leavitt, R-Boulder City, works for the Regional Transportation Commission.

In the order, Crockett wrote that in previous cases challenging the separation of power, NPRI had been able to enlist people who could show that they were harmed by the lawmakers holding a publicly paid job. This time, however, the group filed the lawsuit on its own.

“Nevada Policy Research Institute clearly lacks standing to bring this suit and thus the Motion to Dismiss must be GRANTED,” Crockett wrote.

Fellner disagreed with the judge’s reasoning and said that NPRI believes that “the judiciary must allow any citizen the opportunity to challenge such blatantly unconstitutional behavior.”

This is not the first time NPRI has sued state lawmakers over the separations of powers clause.

In 2017, NPRI sued Gansert alone on behalf of a man who said he wanted to apply for her public job at UNR, a job that he said she shouldn’t be able to hold while also serving as an elected officials. That plaintiff later withdrew from the case.

NPRI also sued Sen. Mo Denis in 2012 on behalf of a person who wanted Denis’ job at the state Public Utilities Commission. Denis quit, making the lawsuit moot.

In 2004, then-Attorney General Brian Sandoval issued an opinion saying that state employees could not serve in the Legislature because they served directly in the executive branch, but local government employees were not prohibited.

In an unrelated case, District Judge Richard Scotti last week overturned a DUI conviction because Scheible, the prosecutor in the case, also serves in the Legislature. Scotti wrote that a person cannot “be tried and convicted by a public official who (is) in charge of both writing and enforcing the laws.”

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said his office is exploring an appeal to the state Supreme Court in that case.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Crockett minute order dismissing NPRI suit by Colton Lochhead on Scribd

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