Nevada board OKs $125K more to fight for ESA law in high court case

CARSON CITY — A state board on Tuesday approved a new $125,000 contract with a prominent law firm to continue assisting Nevada as a new school choice law heads to the state Supreme Court.

The state Board of Examiners approved the funding to retain Bancroft PLLC, led by former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, through the appeals process.

Nick Trutanich, chief of staff to Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, said the contract amount is a bargain for state taxpayers. He added that because of an expedited appeals schedule, the attorney general’s office does not have the resources to handle the case alone.

Nevada has already paid Bancroft $295,000 to assist in defense of the law at the district court level. Trutanich said Bancroft has invested about 1,100 hours on the cases, an amount that would have cost $800,000 to $900,000 without the state’s discounted rate.

A bill passed by the 2015 Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval allows parents to tap the state portion of per-pupil funding to help send their children to private school or pay for other educational programs such as homeschooling and tutoring.

The money is put into education savings accounts administered by the state treasurer’s office.

To date, about 5,000 applications have been received, but the program was put on hold in January when a state judge issued an injunction in a suit filed by six families who argued that taking money from public schools would harm their own children’s education.

That case is now before the Supreme Court.

A separate lawsuit filed by the America Civil Liberties Union argues the program violates the state constitution that prohibits using taxpayer money for sectarian purposes. A district court judge has yet to rule in that case, and Trutanich said the board could be asked for more money should that one advance to the state’s high court.

Discussion about the contract drew some terse remarks from Sandoval, not over the expense but comments in a Feb. 24 National Review article.

The article said Sandoval publicly called for a “robust defense” of the school choice law but opposed the contract with Clement. It quoted an anonymous lawyer “familiar” with the Board of Examiners as saying, “The governor’s office didn’t want the Clement contract, but the governor publicly supported it when it became clear he didn’t have the votes.”

“At any time publically or privately have you interpreted anything I’ve said as not being supportive of these contracts?” Sandoval asked Trutanich. “Do you have any idea where that came from?”

Trutanich assured Sandoval the comment didn’t come from the attorney general’s office, and the governor said he wasn’t pointing fingers at the office.

“I will tell you that comment is patently false,” Sandoval said, adding he has “a pretty good idea” who said it.

“I would hope that they would seek to correct this record because it’s patently unfair,” the governor said.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.

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