Nevada Attorney General’s office seeks dismissal of Hutchison lawsuit supporting vouchers

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The Nevada Attorney General‘s office has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit by Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison’s law firm on behalf of parents who Hutchison says have been left in limbo by challenges to the Education Savings Account program.

“The lawsuit brought by the Hutchison firm endangers the state’s ongoing defense of the Education Savings Account program,” said Attorney General Adam Laxalt in a statement. “My office believes that the suit does nothing but distract and divide the state’s efforts to defend the program from the two real challenges to the ESA program which lawyers in my office have been working non-stop to brief, argue and defend.”

The result, Laxalt said could be significant delays in getting through the legal battle.

The ESA (vouchers) program is being challenged on constitutional grounds in two separate lawsuits — one by the ACLU and the other by a group of parents who say the vouchers unlawfully deplete state funding for public schools by diverting it to private schools.

The program would grant parents up to $5,100 a school year to help pay the cost of private school tuition for their children. Opponents say it violates the Nevada Constitution mandate public funds not be diverted to private use and the ban on using public money for religious organizations. Most of those private schools in Nevada are operated by religious groups.

The ACLU suit in Clark County is awaiting a judge’s ruling on whether it should be dismissed. Carson District Judge James Wilson has already denied a motion to dismiss the other lawsuit and has taken under submission the petition by that group of parents to issue a preliminary injunction blocking issuance of any voucher checks until the constitutional issue is resolved.

Laxalt’s motion to dismiss Hutchison’s lawsuit also argues the Lieutenant Governor’s law firm has a conflict of interest in the case since it represents the Institute for Justice, which has joined with the treasurer’s office and the attorney general’s office in defending the case.

Laxalt argued the net effect of Hutchison’s lawsuit will be to delay the entire ESA program so that Treasurer Dan Schwartz can’t begin issuing those checks to parents Feb. 1.

Schwartz has said he intends to do just that unless one or both of the courts handling the challenges issues an injunction blocking him.

The two challenges were filed in September.

The parents in Hutchison’s lawsuit filed Dec. 22 argue they relied on getting the money in February in enrolling their children in private schools.

But, Laxalt‘s motion states the February date to begin writing checks is a goal they have had and not part of the law in Senate Bill 302 itself so those parents have no legal right to demand that deadline be kept.

In addition to the lawsuit, Hutchison’s firm asked permission from Wilson to intervene in the Carson City suit. Wilson, in a Dec. 30 order, rejected that request saying the legal interest of all the parties “appeal identical” and in that case, their arguments don’t have enough merit to grant intervention.

Finally, Wilson wrote Hutchison’s firm “had no legal basis” to file a series of motions in the Carson case before he had ruled on whether they should be allowed to intervene.

Hutchison was traveling and not available to comment.


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