Lawmakers on Wednesday questioned the Attorney General’s office over the group of mostly senior legal staff who still haven’t passed the Nevada Bar after up to two years in office.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, himself a lawyer, said he’s troubled by the fact these lawyers, including three top people, who are in positions where they’re guiding and mentoring junior staff.
That list includes Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, his deputy Joseph Tartakovsky and Chief of Staff Nick Trutanich.
Trutanich, however, said his duties are administrative, not legal, and his position doesn’t require he be a member of the Nevada Bar. He said DanDyke and Tartakovsky have been extremely busy managing the appellate division under their control. That division handles upward of 250 appeals a year, he said.
Assistant Attorney General Wes Duncan, who’s licensed in Nevada, told a subcommittee of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees there are seven lawyers plus Trutanich who haven’t yet been licensed in Nevada — five in senior/supervisory positions. They’re allowed to practice under a Supreme Court rule that allows public entities to bring in lawyers from outside Nevada and give them time to study for and pass the bar here.
But Frierson and Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, pointed out it’s been two years since Adam Laxalt’s administration took over and brought in most of these people.
“Why haven’t they taken the bar exam?” Sprinkle asked.
Duncan said two lawyers on that list took the exam in February and will know by May whether they passed. He said another on the list was recently hired after being discharged from the Air Force and the rest on the list are planning to take the exam in July.
Trutanich said part of the problem is two years ago the Bar Association told them they could renew that temporary status every year until they were prepared for the exam. He said the Bar changed that rule in January, advising the AG’s staff they can’t get another renewal and must take the bar or stop practicing law in Nevada.
The office was also questioned on its decision to effectively create a second Deputy Solicitor General using a different position despite the fact that addition to the senior staff was rejected by lawmakers in 2015. Trutanich said they added extra duties to the existing position but didn’t increase the pay.
“The title is different but the duties and functions are what they’re supposed to be,” he said.
“I disagree,” said Subcommittee Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. “You found a work-around. We made a decision. I believe this committee will have to make much more clear in the future how to deal with these positions.”
The Attorney General has a staff of 178 lawyers and some 370 employees total. The budget presented on Wednesday, Duncan said, actually cuts spending by $1.7 million over the biennium and this week returned $3.5 million in settlement money to the General Fund.
The Attorney General’s budget is primarily funded by “cost allocation” — effectively billing state executive branch agencies for legal services provided, much like a private law firm.
Carlton said another hearing will be set in the last week of March to review the AG’s budgets and hopefully Attorney General Adam Laxalt will attend. He wasn’t there Wednesday despite a specific invitation form Carlton and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson. He was instead in Las Vegas for an announcement on the issues surrounding guardianship in the state.
Carlton and Woodhouse pointed out that other constitutional officers including the Secretary of State, Treasurer and Controller have all appeared to answer questions about their budgets.
Laxalt was at a press conference with Clark County DA Steve Wolfson and Metro Sheriff Joe Lombardo to announce the indictment of the owner-operators of Private Professional Guardian LLC on 270 counts including perjury, filing false records and exploitation of their mostly senior clients.