Lawsuit targets public employees serving in Nevada Legislature

CARSON CITY — A conservative think tank filed a lawsuit Wednesday over what it calls a "long-standing violation of the state constitution," public employees serving in the Legislature.

But in its lawsuit, the Nevada Policy Research Institute only challenges the right of state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, to serve in the Legislature when his primary employer is the state Public Utilities Commission.

Joseph Becker, lawyer for the Las Vegas-based institute, said during a news conference and in news releases that nine other public employees who serve in the Legislature also should be required to give up their non-legislative jobs.

He seeks an injunction to force Denis, the likely Democratic leader of the Senate in the next legislative session, out of his Public Utilities Commission job.

To force other legislators out of their public jobs, the institute would have to secure similar injunctions or have them leave voluntarily.

Becker said the lawsuit was not politically inspired. However, eight of the 10 legislators he thinks should leave their non-legislative jobs are Democrats, some of them known for supporting liberal causes.

"We aren’t even asking for him (Denis) to leave the Legislature," said Becker. "We are questioning his serving as a civil servant."

THE ARGUMENT

In the lawsuit filed in Carson City District Court, Becker said that the constitution’s separation of powers doctrine prevents Denis, a computer technician, from serving in the Legislature while also being an employee in the executive branch of government.

In support of his argument, Becker cited the separation of powers clause: "The powers of the government of the state of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, the Legislature, the executive and the judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others."

Contacted in Las Vegas, Denis said he was aware of the lawsuit and would contact his legal advisers and issue statements later. He said his mind was on other matters since he was in the hospital awaiting the birth of his first grandchild.

Unlike Denis, the other nine other legislators are not employees of the executive branch of state government but people who work for local governments, school districts and the university system. As legislators, however, they approve laws and expenditures, including funds for salaries, that could affect themselves and their employers.

"We have 63 legislators, and something close to 20 percent of them are affected by this provision," said Becker, director of the policy institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation.

PAST CHALLENGE FAILED

This isn’t the first time the issue has been litigated. Becker noted that the state high court in 2004 threw out a lawsuit filed by then Secretary of State Dean Heller, a Republican, in which he sued the Legislature for including executive branch workers such as then Assemblyman Ron Knecht, a PUC economist. The court rejected the case because the constitution lets the Legislature set qualifications of members.

In its ruling, the court said that someone who would be affected by a legislator’s civil service employment would have to bring a challenge.

Consequently, the institute filed the lawsuit on behalf of William Pojunis, an unemployed Las Vegas computer technician. Becker, who told Pojunis not to answer reporters’ questions, said Pojunis wants to apply for Denis’ PUC job.

He said the man has 25 years of computer experience. But Pojunis, 66, has been unemployed since 2007, and Becker admitted that he has not applied for Denis’ job because it is not open.

"It is not open until we can force it open," Becker said. "He is seeking employment."

Denis has worked for the PUC since 1993. At Becker’s direction, Pojunis refused to identify his political party but he did say he has never been involved in a political campaign.

LEGISLATURE NOT NAMED

In the lawsuit, Becker also names the state and the PUC. He does not name the Legislature itself, a move to prevent Denis and his lawyers from arguing the constitution allows the Legislature to set qualifications for its members.

In response to questions, Becker said it does not matter that the only power Denis exercises in the PUC is fixing computers, and he has nothing to do with setting utility rates.

Neither he nor other policy institute staff members could identify any specific examples of Denis acting inappropriately by using his legislative power to benefit the PUC.

"I would say by duly holding two positions, one in the legislative branch and one in the executive branch, Mr. Denis is acting unconstitutionally and improperly," Nevada Policy Research Institute President Andy Matthews said.

Becker said the separation of powers clause was adopted by the state’s founding fathers to prevent "oppressive government."

"You don’t want the same people judging and legislative and executive," he said.

The 2004 litigation over state workers serving in the Legislature was handled by the attorney general’s office.

Then-Attorney General Brian Sandoval, now governor, wrote an opinion that the state constitution bars any employee from serving in the executive branch of government and while serving in the Legislature. But Sandoval also said the prohibition does not apply to local government workers who are legislators.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Vegas Homeless Remembered
Las Vegas vigil remembers 179 homeless people who died over the past year in Clark County. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A look inside Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory
Tesla's Gigafactory east of Reno produces the batteries that fuel the company's electric cars. Production has created more than 7,000 jobs, and the campus that includes one of the largest buildings in the world is expected to triple in size by the time it is completed. Tesla Vice President Chris Lister leads a tour of the facility. (Bill Dentzer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Garnet Interchange Ribbon Cutting
The Nevada Department of Transportation celebrated the completion of the $63 million I-15-US 93 Garnet Interchange project. The project includes a modified diverging diamond interchange and a 5-mile widening of US 93.
State Foresters Hunt for Record Trees
Urban foresters from the Nevada Division of Forestry hunt for record setting trees.
Rick Davidson directs NFR satellite feed
Rick Davidson directs the Wrangler NFR's live satellite feed from a production trailer outside the Thomas & Mack Center. (Patrick Everson)
Scott Boras, Bryce Harper's agent, speaks to media at baseball's winter meetings
Baseball agent Scott Boras updates media on the contract negotiations of his client Bryce Harper during baseball's winter meetings at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 12, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Achievement School District
The achievement district faced strong opposition from traditional schools back in its beginnings in 2016. But with schools like Nevada Rise and Nevada Prep, it's slowly and steadily growing. Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fresno State QB on record-breaking receiver
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion talks record-setting receiver KeeSean Johnson. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The annual 'Shop with a Cop' event at Target
This year’s "Shop with a Cop" event gave about 40 children the chance to shop at Target alongside a North Las Vegas Police officers. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Bizutesfaye
Melvin Dummar dead at 74
Melvin Dummar has died at 74. Dummar was famous for claiming to have saved Howard Hughes in a Nevada desert in 1967. Dummar claimed to have been left $156 million in Hughes’ will. The will mysteriously appeared after Hughes’ death in 1976. It was dismissed as a fake two years later. Dummar never saw a dime of the billionaire's fortune. Dummar died Saturday in Nye County.
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Public memorial service for Jerry Herbst
Archiving effort hits milestone at Clark County Museum
The Clark County Museum catalogs the final item from the bulk of Route 91 Harvest festival artifacts. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Final Route 91 Harvest festival remembrance objects catalogued at Clark County Museum
The last of the more than 17,000 items left at the makeshift memorial near the Las Vegas sign after the Oct. 1 shootings have been catalogued at the Clark County Museum in Las Vegas. The final item was a black-and-white bumper sticker bearing "#VEGASSTRONG. An additional 200 items currently on display at the museum will be catalogued when the exhibit comes down. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Grand Jury Indicts Constable for theft
A Clark County grand jury indicted Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation prompted the criminal probe. The newspaper found Mitchell wrote himself thousands in checks, took out cash at ATMs and traveled on county funds. He faces four felony counts of theft and a county of public misconduct. Mitchell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
93-year-old WWII veteran arrested during visit to VA hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, 93, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest during his visit to VA hospital on Friday, Nov. 30. (Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco_
Pearl Harbor survivor struggles in her senior years
Winifred Kamen, 77, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as an infant, works a 100 percent commission telemarketing job to make ends meet. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Catahoula dogs rescued from home in Moapa Valley
Catahoula dogs were brought to The Animal Foundation after being rescued from home in Moapa Valley.
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses in California wildfire
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses she suffered in California's Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benefit dinner for Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager
Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe in Las Vegas talks about having a benefit for Kerry Clasby, known as the Intuitive Forager, who suffered losses on her farm in California’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Las Vegans Celebrate Big Snowfall
Las Vegans celebrate big snowfall at Lee Canyon.
Exploring old mines for denim jeans and other vintage items
Caden Gould of Genoa, Nev. talks about his experiences looking for vintage denim jeans and other items in old mines and other places areas across Nevada and the west.
Officers share photo of dead gunman after Las Vegas shooting
A little over an hour after SWAT officers entered Stephen Paddock's suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cell phone photos of the dead Oct. 1 gunman.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like