Augustine to admit ethics violations
Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine has agreed to admit to “willful violations” of the state code of ethics, a move that could lead to an impeachment hearing.
The agreement is the result of a two-hour, closed-door meeting Wednesday among Attorney General Brian Sandoval, Chief Criminal Deputy Attorney General Gerald Gardner and Augustine’s lawyer, John Arrascada.
“This afternoon we’re going to file a complaint alleging violations of the code of ethics and, in a matter of several weeks, perhaps, Kathy Augustine is going to file a response in which she stipulates to willful violations of the code of ethics,” said Gardner after the meeting.
Augustine, a Las Vegas Republican, was not present for the negotiations and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Gardner refused to release details of violations contained in the complaint, or say which Augustine will admit she violated. The complaints are confidential by law until a determination is made whether the attorney general has enough reason to proceed.
The original complaint against Augustine was filed in 2003 by her former secretary Jennifer Normington and charges Augustine used her office staff to do political work during her re-election campaign.
Augustine has said she told Normington to do the work on her own time.
State law prohibits a public officer or employee from using governmental time, equipment or facilities to benefit their own interests.
Investigators reportedly interviewed numerous current and former controller’s office employees and reviewed computer records.
Sandoval said earlier his office was ready to bring felony charges against Augustine, if warranted. But Gardner refused to discuss whether criminal charges would be forthcoming, saying, “We can’t talk about criminal stuff.”
According to Nevada Revised Statutes, in the case of a constitutional officer such as the controller, the ethics commission “shall file a report for impeachment” if it finds a willful violation.
Augustine earlier said, however, that impeachment is mandatory only if there have been three ethical violations.
When the charges surfaced, Augustine said she has no intention of resigning even though she would likely “take a hit” from the Ethics Commission.
Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said impeachment wouldn’t protect Augustine from criminal charges in the case.
“If the attorney general is considering criminal prosecution, impeachment does not prohibit that prosecution because a judgment of impeachment is limited to a removal from office and disqualification from holding any office,” he said.
Augustine could not be reached. Her lawyer, Arrascada, did not respond to a request for comment.
Augustine is halfway through her second term as controller. Prior to that she served in the Nevada Senate in the 1995 and 1997 sessions and one term in the Assembly.
Process of impeachment:
— If the Nevada Ethics Commission finds Controller Kathy Augustine willfully violated the law – precisely what she has agreed to stipulate to – it must refer the case to the Nevada Assembly to decide whether Augustine should be impeached.
— If impeached by a majority vote in the lower house, Augustine would be tried by the Nevada Senate. She could be removed from office by a two-thirds majority.
— The process is more direct if she is convicted of a felony. Under NRS 283.040, that would automatically remove her from office because she would no longer be qualified to hold the post.
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.