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Case could raise questions for Legislature

A list of 20 allegations of ethics violations against state Sen. Sandra Tiffany could open another can of worms for the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said Wednesday if the Ethics Commission rules Tiffany is guilty of violations, the Legislature could be pulled into the case as they were when an ethics case resulted in impeachment proceedings against Controller Kathy Augustine two years ago.

He said that would mean breaking new legal ground because the Nevada Constitution isn’t black and white on how to handle a sitting lawmaker convicted of ethical violations.

“Keeping in mind she hasn’t been found guilty of any violations at this point, there would be a lot of legal issues we would need to look into if it got to that position,” Malkiewich said.

The question is whether a member of the Legislature can be impeached. He said that on one side, the Constitution provides basic guidelines for impeachment and removal of any state officer – which would appear to include members of the Legislature.

In that case, the Assembly would decide whether to impeach based on the evidence presented and, if two-thirds of members agreed, send a bill of impeachment to the Senate for trial. Again, two-thirds would be required to convict and decide her fate.

“On the other hand, there is a provision that each house judges the qualifications of its members,” Malkiewich said. “I don’t know if it’s ever been litigated or determined but who is seated isn’t who the governor or secretary of state certifies. It’s who each house seats.”

In that case, the Senate alone would decide whether to remove a member. Again, it would require a two-thirds vote.

In any case, Malkiewich said, he doubts the courts would get involved. Because both scenarios would be handled by the Legislature, he said it would be purely for the Legislature to decide.

Ironically, Tiffany’s Ethics Commission hearing is set Sept. 13. The timing would again halt the process of preparing legislation for the 2007 session just as Augustine’s case threw a wrench into the works for 2005.

That wouldn’t be an issue if criminal charges resulted in the case because the Constitution clearly provides that convicted felons be removed from elected office.

Tiffany, R-Henderson, Wednesday made it clear she doesn’t think it will ever get that far. She said she has done nothing unethical, that she made certain there was a clear separation between her actions as a legislator and as a business operator, and that she received no proprietary information that gave her unfair advantage over any other similar business.

She is accused of using her position as a state senator to further her private business, Stockdales Auctions, which conducts online auctions specializing in disposing of surplus government property – primarily vehicles.

The allegations include affidavits from surplus property managers in eight different states saying she talked to them first as a lawmaker but then pitched her eBay business auctioning off surplus vehicles.

She said the charges she faces weren’t in the original complaint filed more than a year ago and questioned whether the Ethics Commission can even bring allegations that weren’t in the complaint.

She also questioned why the issue was brought to a head as she begins her re-election campaign.

“Why did they wait a year and why now during my re-election campaign?” she said.

She said how she handles the case will depend on the advice of counsel once she selects a lawyer.

— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.