Pointing to the progress in dealing with issues ranging from rape test kits to military legal assistance and opioid addiction, outgoing Attorney General Adam Laxalt praised the efforts of his leadership team and staff.
“I wanted this office to be more than just a legal office to represent government agencies, boards and commissions,” he said in a Tuesday interview with the Appeal. “We wanted to lead in the state in important areas that would make Nevada a better place.”
Laxalt said he’s proud of his staff, which he said was always willing to “dig in” and take on new challenges.
“I feel I’m blessed to have been able to lead such a great office,” he said.
A key example, he said, is the effort to eliminate the backlog of sexual assault kits. At one point there were more than 8,300 sexual assault DNA kits that were untested, some of them more than a decade old.
His office was key to finding the money to pay for those tests which he said he did through a combination of grants and non-taxpayer settlement money totaling $10 million.
As he prepares to leave office, he said nearly all of the backlogged kits have either been tested or sent for testing. Those DNA results have resulted in 27 arrests so far.
In addition, legislation developed by his office and Democrats including Teresa Benitez Thompson of Reno mandates prompt testing of new kits to ensure that backlog doesn’t start to develop again.
“We had a backlog for a reason,” he said. “The mindset was that we only need to test certain kits. We have to test all kits.”
Laxalt said one of the first initiatives started when he took office four years ago is creation of the Office of Military Legal Assistance.
“That’s not something this office ever did,” he said.
Since it was formed, that office has provided free civil legal representation for veterans and their families, almost exclusively using donated time from private lawyers in the state. He said the program has provided legal services to nearly 4,000 service members, veterans and their families.
He said in a variety of issues, such as a threat a service member’s spouse and family are going to be evicted or a car is going to be repossessed, a call from one of those volunteer lawyers will most often get the landlord, car dealer, loan company or other person to the table to work something out. And he said it isn’t driving lawsuits to resolve issues, that, as of a year ago, they were forced to go to court less than 20 times.
The office is so successful, he said, that several other states are creating programs modeled after the Office of Military Legal Assistance.
Laxalt said they’ve also made progress in dealing with the opioid epidemic.
He said the program run through his office funded construction of incinerators to dispose of drugs, distribution of the anti-overdose drug Naloxone and creation of an investigative position to work on curbing opioid abuse.
He also created a 10-person elder fraud unit funded by settlement money. He said that team is devoted to treating elder fraud and guardianship violations, particularly by family members, as crimes instead of civil cases.
At present, he said he’s winding down, preparing to leave office. He said he’s meeting with his leadership team and also meeting with incoming Attorney General Aaron Ford and his team to make the transition as seamless as possible. He said he’s hopeful Ford will continue and expand on those programs.
In the past four years, he said he has sent $32 million back into the state General Fund, $26.1 million in settlement money. In addition, he said they sent $5.44 million in salary and operating savings back.
Laxalt was less forthcoming about his own future in the wake of his unsuccessful run for governor. He said because of the office’s workload and the campaign, he was gone much of the time in recent months.
“I hope over Christmas and New Year’s I’ll be able to give my family back some time,” he said.
After a month or so break, he said he figure out what’s next for him.