April 6, 2013 - 7:53 am
The public cannot see a report that led to the expulsion of Nevada Assemblyman Steven Brooks, the Legislative Counsel Bureau has decided.
In a letter dated April 4, Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes informed attorney Donald Campbell, who represents several news organizations, that their request for access to the report was being denied based on “well-established principles of constitutional, statutory, parliamentary and common law.”
According to the denial, the state’s public records law does not apply to the Brooks report, which was prepared for the Assembly.
“The Nevada Legislature is a public body,” Campbell said Friday. “It’s elected by members of the public. It has now decided the fate of a public figure, Mr. Brooks, who likewise was elected by the public in a free and open election. He has been deemed unfit for public office, and the public wants to know why.
“Apparently this is all a mystery to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, but it’s not to us. We cannot imagine anything that should be more subject to greater scrutiny than this event, which touches on the public’s right to know in such a myriad of ways.”
On March 28, the same day the Assembly voted to expel Brooks from the Legislature, the Las Vegas Review-Journal was among 14 Nevada news organizations that filed a request for the confidential report.
“The Review-Journal will consult with other news organizations which signed onto the request and review next steps with outside legal counsel,” the newspaper’s general counsel, Mark Hinueber, said Friday.
In her response to the request, Erdoes argued that the public records law does not apply to the Brooks report because of the following:
■ Such statutory provisions would unconstitutionally conflict with the Assembly’s “absolute and paramount power” to hold closed committee meetings to consider a person’s character, alleged misconduct, professional competence, or physical or mental health.
■ Such statutory provisions would unconstitutionally conflict with the Assembly’s “exclusive and paramount power” to determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly conduct and expel a member.
■ The report “is not a public book or record.”
■ Under Nevada law, the report “is confidential and privileged.”
■ The interests in personal privacy and nondisclosure “clearly outweigh any countervailing interests in public access.”
■ The report contains law enforcement records, medical records, personnel records and other records “that are declared by law to be confidential or are subject to confidentiality agreements, or both.”
“Brooks was given the opportunity to waive the confidentiality of the materials and he chose not to do so,” Erdoes wrote.
Brooks, a Democrat, served District 17 in North Las Vegas. The Clark County Commission will pick a Democrat from the district to replace him.
He was arrested by a Barstow, Calif., police officer the night of March 28 after a chase on Interstate 15. The chase occurred shortly after Brooks’ expulsion.
Brooks faces several felonies in connection with the chase. His erratic behavior and previous run-ins with police led to his ouster.
A seven-member Assembly Select Committee voted to expel Brooks after reviewing the voluminous, confidential report in closed session. And the Assembly followed. The report was prepared by independent counsel.
“Ultimately, the report from independent counsel painted a picture of a man who is volatile, prone to angry outbursts and potentially dangerous,” Assembly Majority Leader William Horne said last week.
Horne, D-Las Vegas, chaired the committee. He said information in the report was “of a private nature.”
“While we always favor open meetings, there is a point at which we must also protect the privacy of others,” Horne said last week.
In the request for the report, Campbell stated that his clients would seek attorney fees if the request were denied. But Erdoes told Campbell in her response, “Your clients do not have a right under Nevada law to recover any attorney’s fees.”
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.
This is a PDF of the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s statement to media representatives denying their request for the report on the expulsion of Nevada Assemblyman Steven Brooks.