Nevada high court dismisses Wheeler, Hansen ethics case
Assembly members Jim Wheeler and Ira Hansen this week won a split decision from the Nevada Supreme Court that ends the ethics complaint filed against the two in Hansen’s battle with the Wildlife Commission.
The vote was four to three to dismiss the Ethics Commission appeal of the decision tossing the commission’s complaint.
The case originated in the misdemeanor charges against Hansen for placing snares too close to a roadway in violation of state trapping rules.
Wheeler, acting on Hansen’s behalf, asked legislative counsel for a ruling on whether the ban on “steel traps” near a highway applied to snares and box traps. Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes ruled the law applies only to steel traps as stated in the statute.
That prompted Fred Voltz of the wildlife commission to file the ethics complaint accusing Wheeler and Hansen of improperly using their legislative offices to benefit personal interests. He said Hansen wanted the LCG opinion to help him defend against the trapping charges.
A district judge reviewed the matter and agreed with Hansen and Wheeler, ordering the Ethics Commission to dismiss the charges because only the Nevada Assembly has jurisdiction to consider ethical questions about Assembly members.
The Ethics Commission director and legal counsel then met and, without consulting the commission, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The assemblymen responded with an open meeting law complaint because the commission didn’t vote to appeal in a public meeting.
The commission then held an open meeting to authorize the appeal following which Hansen and Wheeler moved to dismiss the appeal because the 30-day time limit for appealing had passed before they did so.
Justices Jim Hardesty, Michael Cherry, Mark Gibbons and Ron Parraguirre agreed saying the decision to appeal had to be made in a public meeting.
“Here, the notice of appeal was filed without any authorization from the commission,” they wrote adding by the time the commission did vote to appeal, the 30-day window to do so had passed.
The minority consisting of Justices Kris Pickering, Michael Douglas and Lidia Stiglich disagreed saying the executive director “specifically authorized” the appeal and the commission then met and ratified it. They wrote the open meeting law doesn’t apply to the decision the commission counsel and director made to file notice of an appeal because it wasn’t a public meeting of a public body. They said there’s no rule that only a governing board can authorize an appeal.
“Nothing suggests the commission’s counsel lacked actual authority to file the notice of appeal,” the dissent argues.
They said the case should be sent forward to be decided on its merits, not resolved by a technical dismissal of the case.