Hiring Arberry as a lobbyist won’t land the hardest working guy

Morse Arberry is a likable guy with charm galore and a great laugh. But when it comes to his work ethic, I can’t be quite so complimentary.

Chief District Judge Art Ritchie and Chief Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman don’t know they’re buying a pig in a poke as they defend their foolish move to hire Arberry as the lobbyist to represent Clark County judges for $124,000 over two years.

Ritchie may believe, since Arberry has been chairman of Assembly Ways and Means, he’s a budget whiz.

But anyone who has ever covered the Nevada Legislature knows “Moose” Arberry relies heavily on staff, is often late or misses meetings and isn’t as knowledgeable about budget details as is presumed. The vice chair of the committee did the heavy lifting.

Ritchie assumes Arberry will be reading and tracking hundreds of bills pertaining to the county courts. That’s not Arberry’s style. His skill is schmoozing. He’s not a detail guy. If he were a detail guy he would pay his taxes on time.

By reaching out to the Democrat first elected in 1984, Ritchie should have known he was stepping in the muck. Perhaps, if he’d consulted with other judges, he would have received some feedback earlier from people like District Judge Susan Johnson, who said someone lobbying for the courts should have “the highest integrity.”

Arberry cannot look you in the eye and claim that virtue without laughing.

He tends to laugh and walk away when reporters ask him about well-publicized issues such as not paying his taxes and not living in his district.

Ritchie and Zimmerman should have been able to recognize Arberry was no stranger to bending the rules of ethics and conflicts of interest, since they were negotiating a lobbying contract with a man who hadn’t yet resigned from the Assembly.

Wonder how many other clients Arberry has been lining up between the time he formed his business in June and when he resigned the Assembly Sept. 1? Since he’s no longer a legislator, state ethics laws don’t apply to him anymore.

Arberry wasn’t hired for his juice, according to Ritchie. “That’s insulting to him and not why he was hired. We expect to get insight from him. It’s what he did there, not who he knows.”

But Arberry has a reputation for being there for his friends. In the 2001 session, there were two bills introduced to raise salaries for all the county officials, from commissioners to sheriffs. Those bills died.

There was a bill to raise the district court judges’ salaries from $107,600 to $140,000. That bill passed. Somehow, the judges got raises when other county elected officials did not.

Senate Bill 184, which had been languishing in Assembly Ways and Means, somehow passed out of committee and was approved in the final days of the session.

Why? Well, the main reason was then-District Judge Gene Porter flew up to lobby for it. Porter was Arberry’s former roommate when he was a legislator himself.

Was it the right thing to do or was it a favor for a friend? I don’t have to tell you the answer, you already know.

Need some language quietly inserted into a bill? Ask Arberry. That’s how doctors got more protection from discipline out of a nurse’s whistle-blower protection bill than the nurses did.

Now Arberry becomes a twofer. He’s the poster child for term limits and for the need for a cooling-off period for legislators to become lobbyists.

He’ll probably laugh at that just like he laughed off questions about all his other unseemly actions.

Actually, the man does have a great laugh. But this isn’t all that funny.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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