Court: Ethics panel violated Sparks official’s rights

RENO– A Washoe County district judge has ruled that a state ethics commission violated the First Amendment rights of a Sparks city councilman when it forced him to abstain from voting on a controversial hotel-casino project last year.

Judge Patrick Flanagan ruled last week that the Nevada Commission on Ethics was wrong when it told Mike Carrigan last spring that he should recuse himself from the vote involving the Lazy 8 project that developer Harvey Whittemore wants to build in Spanish Springs.

The commission had cited a conflict of interest because the manager of Carrigan’s re-election campaign worked for Whittemore’s company. But the judge ruled that there was no conflict of interest and that Carrigan had a constitutional right to vote on matters of public concern, such as the amendment to the city’s master plan necessary for Lazy 8’s construction.

Peppermill Casinos and Whittemore’s Red Hawk Land Co. want to build the resort along the Pyramid Highway.

He said the project was a “heavily contested issue” between Carrigan and his opponent in a 2006 election, so the voters should have been able to know his position.

The panel has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

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