Lombardo censured, fined $20,000 in ethics case

Joe Lombardo

Joe Lombardo

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While Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo still faces a $20,000 fine and a censure for wearing his sheriff’s uniform and badge in campaign materials — which a state board said violates a law prohibiting candidates from using government resources for their personal campaigns — he avoided nearly $1.67 million in fines initially recommended.

Ross Armstrong, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Ethics, originally asserted Lombardo wracked up 68 ethics law violations stemming from 34 social media posts. Each contained at least one of four images of Lombardo wearing his sheriff’s badge or uniform. Armstrong argued each post violated two state statutes.

But the commission ruled there was just one violation per image, not one for each time an image was used in campaign materials.

Attorney Elizabeth Bassett argued in the three-and-a-half hour hearing that Lombardo’s sheriff’s badge was an example of government-owned property that gave him an unwarranted advantage on the campaign trail. Wearing the uniform and badge insinuated Lombardo had the endorsement of his public office in what she called a “willful” and repeated violation of state law.

“The civil penalties of this amount, or even near this amount, would in fact be unprecedented,” Bassett said. “However, the subject’s conduct in these matters were unprecedented and therefore requires and equivalent penalty.”

The commission ruled Lombardo violated a statute that bars the use of government resources to secure a private interest without warrant for each image or video. But he did not violate a statute that bars public officers from using their position to their advantage without warrant, the commission said.

In legal responses to the Ethics Commission complaint, Lombardo’s attorneys called the proposed penalty “eye-watering” and unprecedented. Attorney Colby Williams, who represented Lombardo, said in the hearing that county sheriff is a 24/7 job, that it was already common knowledge that Lombardo was sheriff and that he had a right to advise the public of his elected position under the First Amendment. Lombardo was not willful in breaking the two state statutes, Williams said, which he called vague.

“There is no evidence in the record that Governor Lombardo’s limited use of these same four images secured him any advantage, let alone an unwarranted advantage,” Williams said. “There’s no stipulated facts that said by posting these four images, so-and-so voted for him.”

A spokesperson for Lombardo referred an inquiry to his counsel.

“Although we’re gratified that the Commission did not impose the ($1.6 million-plus) fine sought by the Executive Director, we’re disappointed in certain aspects of the Commission’s ruling and are in the process of considering all options,” Samuel Mirkovich, who represents Lombardo, said in an emailed statement.

In a statement, Nevada Democratic Party executive director Hilary Barrett said Lombardo “has never acted as if the law applied to him.”

Lombardo served two elected terms as nonpartisan sheriff in Clark County — the administrative head of the largest police agency in the state, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He resigned in January 2023 when he became governor, defeating Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak.

Lombardo had appointed two members of the commission in the past week: Stanley Olsen, a former LVMPD employee and Republican state Senator, and Democrat John Moran III, the grandson of former Clark County Sheriff John Moran.

At the beginning of the meeting, Olsen acknowledged his ties to LVMPD and that he knew of Lombardo during his employment, but did not directly work with him. The two described Lombardo as a “professional acquaintance” and said their relationship to Lombardo did not require disclosure and would not interfere with their actions on the board.

The board includes four governor-appointed members and four members appointed by a commission of state lawmakers.

Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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