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Laxalt’s absence, staff bar exams dominate budget hearing for Nevada AG office

CARSON CITY — Staff with the Nevada Attorney General’s office highlighted the agency’s successes in a budget hearing before state lawmakers on Wednesday, citing its work on guardianship issues and eliminating a sex assault kit backlog.

The office also pointed to the efforts of its Office of Military Legal Assistance, the nation’s first attorney general led, public-private partnership providing free legal services to active military and veterans.

But the hearing before the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means joint subcommittee began on a critical note, with Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, expressing disappointment that Attorney General Adam Laxalt did not appear in person.

Carlton noted that the date for the hearing has been set since Jan. 31 and suggested that Laxalt’s failure to attend was disrespectful to the Legislature and its oversight authority. Other constitutional officers have appeared at their budget hearings this session, although the governor does not appear in persons for such hearings.

A statement from his office said that Laxalt entrusted the presentation of the budget to his executive management team who are well-versed with the office’s budget and initiatives. Supervisors representing each division of the office were also present to answer any questions. Laxalt was in Las Vegas court on Wednesday because his office is involved in a 270-count indictment against former court-appointed guardian April Parks.

NOT FULLY LICENSED

During the hearing, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, an attorney who formerly worked in the attorney general’s office, wanted details on the seven attorneys who work for the office but have not passed the state bar. A state bar rule allows for limited practice for a two-year period.

Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said the attorneys, who have salaries ranging from $108,000 to $132,000, are having to rely on other attorneys in the office for supervision, which impacts the agency’s budget.

The office said the issue is being addressed.

“They are going to take the bar exam,” said Wes Duncan, first assistant attorney general.

Chief of Staff Nicholas Trutanich said the attorneys at issue came to Nevada to serve Laxalt and the Nevada public.

“The issue is temporary,” he said. “There was nothing malicious.”

TO BE CONTINUED

The subcommittee made it through only a portion of the budget and will hold another hearing at a later date.

The attorney general’s office has 178 lawyers on staff. The agency’s proposed general fund budget is $27 million a year, a reduction of $1.7 million over the current two-year budget. The office is also returning $3.5 million to the general fund.

Several groups criticized Laxalt’s decision not to appear at the hearing, including the Nevada Conservation League, which said the attorney general has “wasted” taxpayer dollars on lawsuits challenging federal regulations on clean air and water.

“We expect more transparency from Nevada’s top law enforcement officer, especially when his challenges to federal clean air, clean water, and public lands run counter to the conservation values shared by Nevadans across the state,” said Andy Maggi, executive director of the group.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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