July 28, 2017 - 10:00 am
Updated July 28, 2017 - 11:59 am
The report detailing sexual harassment claims that forced the resignation of a longtime Nevada lawmaker is not for the public’s viewing, according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
On Wednesday, the Nevada Legislature’s legal arm denied a public record request by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that sought a report detailing claims of sexual harassment against former state Sen. Mark Manendo.
The Senate Democratic Caucus announced that the investigation found more than a dozen cases of sexual harassment involving Manendo during the 2017 Legislature alone, and even more from previous sessions.
Manendo, a Democrat from Las Vegas, resigned his Senate seat on July 18, five days after the investigation concluded.
The 37-page denial from the Legislative Counsel Bureau means the public is not allowed to know the findings of the two-and-a-half month investigation into the lawmaker who spent more than two decades in the Legislature, the history of sexual harassment claims leveled against him or what efforts had been taken in the past to look into previous allegations.
“It’s a 37-page example of why people don’t — and shouldn’t — trust the government,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association and an advocate for government transparency.
The LCB detailed eight legal reasons for not releasing the report, including an argument that the body of publicly elected officials who are paid with taxpayer dollars is not considered a “governmental entity” under the public records law.
Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, called for the investigation on April 27.
An agreement between the LCB and the Van Dermyden Maddux law firm was included in the public records response, which noted that the work would cost $265 per hour for any work done by a lawyer and $120 per hour for paralegal work.
The firm interviewed 58 individuals, including Manendo, during its investigation, according to a press release issued July 18 by the Senate Democratic Caucus. It concluded that Manendo created an environment that interfered with female lobbyists, visitors and employees of the Legislature, and found 14 incidents of “inappropriate behavior,” during the 2017 session.
Sexual harassment claims were also raised against Manendo in 2003 and 2010.
Manendo also attempted to interfere with witnesses, including trying to get one to change her story in the investigation.
Smith called the reasons for not releasing the report “ridiculous.”
“This response is wrong on so many levels, it’s breathtaking,” Smith said.
“Their lawyers have built a case for protecting legislators from public scrutiny on the argument that it’s not in the public interest and the Legislature is not a governmental entity. That’s ridiculous,” he added. “It’s the kind of double-talk used by people to justify all kinds of nonsense.”
The Legislature has often shielded itself from the public eye, even with previous investigations into sitting lawmakers.
In 2013, the Assembly investigated Assemblyman Steven Brooks, a Democrat who represented a district in North Las Vegas, after he was arrested on allegations that he threatened then-Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
Similarly to the Manendo case, the Assembly hired an outside lawyer to investigate Brooks. After that report came back, the Assembly voted to oust the troubled lawmaker from the Legislature.
Fourteen Nevada news agencies — including the Review-Journal — filed a records request with the Legislative Counsel Bureau. Lawmakers at the time said the report was “of a private nature,” and the bureau denied the news agencies’ requests on similar grounds to those cited in the response to the Manendo records request.
Contact Colton Lochhead at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.