Legislative lawyer: Ethics panel lacks authority in case

CARSON CITY — Legislative lawyers said Thursday that they might file a lawsuit against the Nevada Ethics Commission if it tries to discipline state Sen. Warren Hardy over a vote he made during the 2007 Legislature.

Attorney Kevin Powers said the Ethics Commission cannot hear cases related to the “core legislative function” of legislators because lawmakers are entitled to “legislative immunity.”

Powers said that under the separation of powers doctrine, the Legislature is a separate branch of government and the Ethics Commission is part of the executive branch of government.

As a result, he said the commission lacks the legal authority to tell members of another branch whether they properly disclosed potential conflicts of interest before voting on bills.

This immunity extends only to issues on voting, Powers said.

Powers’ comments provoked a strong reaction from Ethics Commission members.

Chairman Mark Hutchison pointed out that the commission has made 19 rulings in cases involving legislators since 1985.

“Could it be the Legislature (which passed laws creating the Ethics Commission) wanted this body to have jurisdiction over the Legislature?” he asked.

Powers said legislators probably did not assert their right of legislative immunity at those earlier hearings.

He said it was correct for the Ethics Commission to punish former state Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, in 2006 when she admitted she used her position as a lawmaker to gain information about online government auctions in other states to benefit her own business. That issue did not deal with voting, he said.

Tiffany was fined $10,000.

Powers maintained that legislators still can be punished by either the Senate or Assembly if they fail to follow legislative voting rules.

Members of the Ethics Commission, however, refused to dismiss entirely a complaint against Hardy, R-Las Vegas, based on Powers’ argument.

As a result, Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said after the meeting that they might challenge the commission’s decision in District Court or the Supreme Court.

Hardy said the legislative immunity issue “goes way beyond me” and that he always has followed the legislative attorneys’ advice before voting on bills.

The commission did throw out one of two remaining charges against Hardy after the legislative lawyers pointed out that a vote he made three years ago could not be considered, since there is a two-year statute of limitations.

Henderson resident Richard B. Miller in March filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission alleging Hardy “repeatedly and inappropriately” voted on bills that benefited him and his employer, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Las Vegas, without disclosing his financial interest in the legislation. Hardy is president of the company that represents contractors.

At a hearing in December, the commission will decide whether Hardy violated ethics laws by not abstaining from voting or adequately disclosing his financial interest in Senate Bill 509, which would have required contractors to pay more money to workers on some projects.

Miller, who lives in Hardy’s district, alleged in his complaint that Hardy had sent out a letter “trumpeting” ABC’s defeat of SB509 during the 2007 legislative session.

Laws forbid legislators from using their positions to gain unwarranted advantages for themselves or their employers.

In a brief to the Ethics Commission, legislative attorneys said Hardy properly followed their advice on voting. The contractors he represents in his private job would not have been affected any differently than contractors he does not represent, according to the lawyers.

In an interview, Powers said the legislators’ right to discipline their own members is not any different than how complaints are handled in the judicial branch of government.

He said the state Ethics Commission does not discipline judges. Instead the state Commission on Judicial Discipline was created with the judicial branch of government to handle complaints against judges.

But in his 12 years as a legislative lawyer, Powers said he does not remember the Legislature disciplining any legislator over voting matters.

He said someone would have to bring a complaint against a legislator to trigger a hearing on whether the legislator did something improper.

“It is not a shocking new concept,” Powers said about legislative immunity. “They don’t escape punishment, but the body entitled to punish them is not the Commission on Ethics, but the legislator’s own house.”

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

Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like