Attorneys challenge Augustine charges | NevadaAppeal.com

Attorneys challenge Augustine charges

Attorneys for Controller Kathy Augustine asked the Senate on Friday to throw out articles of impeachment, saying they document “poor judgment” but don’t come close to malfeasance in office.

Augustine admitted to three willful violations of state ethics laws by having employees do campaign work on state time and by using state computers and other equipment in her 2002 campaign. One witness testified she spent the majority of her time on the campaign.

The Assembly unanimously approved three articles of impeachment based on those three violations and forwarded the case to the Senate, which will now try Augustine and decide whether to acquit, sanction or remove her from office.

The Senate trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

Augustine’s legal team, headed by Dominic Gentile of Las Vegas and John Arrascada of Reno, admits in the Friday challenge that Augustine’s actions were inappropriate, but argues they “constituted minor transgressions that fall far short of a legitimate basis to impeach her and remove her from the office to which the electorate appointed her.”

“Kathy’s actions were inappropriate insofar as she allowed some of her employees to work on her re-election campaign during state time and that she failed to stop them from using state equipment to do the campaign work,” it states.

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But they said allegations she was mean to workers and had a nasty temper doesn’t justify removal from office.

They charge the only reason the case exists is “three former extremely biased employees … who were prone to hyperbole and gross exaggeration, got together and somehow convinced the powers that be within the AG’s office that their mean, bitchy boss should be made an example of for doing something that goes on at every level of government during an election year ….”

Those three employees were her former deputies Jim Wells and Jeanine Coward and her former executive assistant Jennifer Normington.

“Kathy Augustine’s actions should be viewed as exactly what they are: Poor judgment decisions by a superior who was not well liked by her subordinates.”

Beyond that, they argued the articles are legally flawed because they don’t specify whether she is accused of “malfeasance or misdemeanor” – the two crimes mentioned in the state constitution warranting impeachment. The challenge filed Friday argues those are “conceptually and legally distinct” and that the special prosecutor should be required to at least spell out which theory he will use so the defense knows what to defend against.

If the charge is malfeasance in how she conducted herself as controller, they argue, special prosecutor Dan Greco must “establish what that standard of conduct is.” That follows arguments Gentile has made in the past two weeks that every public official to some degree uses his or her office to help win the next election, and that the only reason Augustine is being charged is because her employees didn’t like her.

“Malfeasance in office cannot be proven unless and until it is established that Kathy Augustine’s challenged actions run contrary to the established practice and custom of similarly situated elected officials,” the challenge states.

Finally, the challenge says impeachment is designed to protect the people from official misconduct and to improve public service – not to punish the offender. Augustine, they argue, hasn’t done anything to “harm the citizens who elected her.”

“The State of Nevada does not need to be protected from Kathy Augustine and thus, impeachment amounts to the death penalty for someone who has done nothing to justify such drastic action.”

The arguments in the 17-page document will be the first issues on the agenda Monday morning when the Senate convenes to begin Augustine’s trial.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or 687-8750.