Consumer protection audit revives battle with AG

The long-simmering battle between Attorney General Brian Sandoval and Consumer Advocate Tim Hay moved to a front burner again Tuesday when executive branch auditors finally presented their audit criticizing Hay's office and recommending major changes in its operations.

The recommendations included that Hay's staff be moved out of its offices near the Public Utilities Commission, that the office reduce the use of special consultants and rely instead on staff, and that fraud investigation be taken away from the Consumer Protection Bureau and given to the criminal division.

The dispute has been described as a power struggle between Hay, who has a four-year appointment and great independence, and Sandoval, who wants to rein in the consumer protection bureau.

The audit was requested by Sandoval and a draft obtained by several members of the press in October. It was pulled back because Hay didn't have enough time to prepare a response. Auditors took until Tuesday to refine and revise the report.

Hay said the audit reflects Sandoval's point of view.

"He's on the audit committee and gives the audit committee legal advice so, no, I don't think it was objective," he said.

Hay said he doesn't want to move into offices at the main attorney general's building because most of his staff's business is with the Public Utilities Commission so his offices should be close to it.

He added that his appointment doesn't expire until June 30, 2005, and that, in the interim, he has the ability to sign one-year leases to keep his office space.

Hay said he relies on consultants because his policy has been to keep the consumer advocate's permanent staff small, using specialized consultants when their expertise was needed, instead of hiring them full time.

He also said it was the Legislature which assigned staff investigating deceptive trade practices to his bureau, and that the attorney general doesn't have the authority to take it away.

"It would take legislative action to disassemble the bureau because the legislature put those functions here," he said.

Sandoval said the issues would all be resolved by the end of the year. That, he said, is when Hay's appointment expires, not in June.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or at 687-8750.


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