Attorney General Adam Laxalt told lawmakers Wednesday he wasn’t attempting to coerce Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett into joining a lawsuit on behalf of Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson.
Laxalt told a joint session of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees in his March 2016 meeting with Burnett he was attempting to find out whether the control board chairman supported a limited amicus brief in Adelson’s lawsuit with a former employee aimed only at protecting the confidentiality of internal gaming control documents. Laxalt said it wasn’t an attempt to coerce Burnett into filing a brief that could support Adelson’s fight in that wrongful termination suit.
Those comments weren’t well received by legislative leadership. Democrats have charged even if not illegal, the attempt to sway Burnett was a serious ethical violation on Laxalt’s part.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said Laxalt’s client, Burnett, was so concerned about the nature of the conversation he secretly recorded Laxalt and handed that recording over to the FBI to determine whether any laws were violated.
“That is not normal in an attorney–client relationship,” said Frierson.
“The real question is whether there has been a breakdown in the relationship that we need to protect,” said Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas.
He said Laxalt’s interpretation of the conversation at a Reno coffee shop “is a plausible reading.”
“But there’s another plausible reading of the transcript,” he said.
That interpretation, he said, was Laxalt was advocating for Gaming Control to join the lawsuit in order to help Adelson’s case.
Frierson made a similar comment:
“A reasonable person could read (the transcript) and believe you were trying to force Mr. Burnett into filing an amicus brief.”
Frierson told Laxalt the attorney general’s gaming deputies had clearly indicated gaming shouldn’t get involved in that lawsuit but in the coffee shop meeting, it seems clear that Laxalt was trying to get Burnett to do just that.
Ways and Means Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said she introduced legislation that would remove the AG’s office from representing gaming and provide them with a general counsel because of that concern and the concern the relationship between the attorney general and Gaming Control was damaged.
She and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, issued a joint statement saying the hearing made it clear “Attorney General Laxalt’s attempt to pressure the Gaming Control Board to intervene in a private civil lawsuit on behalf of his biggest donor has created an irreconcilable conflict.”
They pointed out the control board has since asked Laxalt to recuse himself from representing their interests in that specific matter.
Laxalt pointed out not only did the FBI say he committed no crimes and even Burnett testified that the Attorney General’s office provides them excellent legal services and the bill isn’t necessary.
In fact, he said the separation between his office and the agency is healthy as are the occasional differences they have over legal advice. He said putting a general counsel under control of the board would eliminate that necessary check and balance process.
Burnett told the joint committee session he taped the conversation on his cellphone because he was extremely worried about where the conversation might go considering Laxalt had pressed repeatedly for a face to face meeting and it was clear Adelson’s desire to overturn staff recommendations against entering that litigation was the subject of the meeting.
He said that was the same request Adelson’s lawyers had made of his office just a couple of weeks earlier.
The committee took no action on that bill, AB513, because, as Frierson pointed out, they don’t have any information about what it would cost.
The attorney general currently provides a staff of nine deputies to provide legal counsel to the Gaming Commission and Gaming Control board.