Augustine goes back to work Monday
State Controller Kathy Augustine left the Senate on Saturday claiming vindication after charges that could have removed her from office were dismissed.
They were replaced by a simple censure, which Augustine compared to a parental scolding.
“It’s a bawling out – you know, like your parents bawl you out,” she said. “That’s all.”
Only one member of the Senate refused to support the resolution censuring Augustine. And Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, did so because he didn’t believe she should be punished.
The decision means Augustine will be back at work as state controller Monday.
Augustine faced three articles of impeachment accusing her of having her staff – primarily executive secretary Jennifer Normington – spend a large portion of their state time on her 2002 re-election campaign and of using her office computers, equipment and facilities in that campaign. Normington’s testimony was primarily backed by former Assistant Controller Jeannine Coward.
Despite Normington’s testimony she spent from 25 percent to nearly all her time on campaign functions in the final month of the election, Senators rejected the charges. Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, even asked an attorney general’s investigator if she had considered the damage her investigation was doing to Augustine’s life. And Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, questioned whether Normington had violated the law by taking those campaign records and turning them over to the attorney general’s office.
On an 11-9 vote with Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, absent, the Senate dismissed that count entirely.
With Normington’s and Coward’s testimony dismissed, the evidence about Augustine’s temper tantrums, throwing things and threatening employee jobs was also eliminated.
With that gone, the Senate also rejected the count charging Augustine used Normington’s state-owned computer to compile and store her campaign records. The defense argued there was no proof those records actually came from that computer. The vote was 12-9 – two short of the two-thirds majority required to convict in Nevada’s constitution.
But 14 Senators did vote to convict on count three – using her office, equipment and facilities for her campaign. The evidence there included testimony state workers used phones to call contributors and set up campaign events, used fax and copy machines extensively and used the controller’s office itself.
But with the primary charge of having state employees do her campaign work gone, even prosecutor Dan Greco said he couldn’t justify asking she be removed from office.
He said instead they should suspend her from office 60 days without pay.
Augustine’s lawyer Dominic Gentile commended Greco saying he agrees that “clearly, removal is not in order here.”
He said removal for “using phones and fax machines” would be a “bizarre result.”
And Gentile argued Augustine has already been punished enough financially by the $15,000 fine imposed by the Nevada Commission on Ethics.
“Under these circumstances, it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment for sending a few faxes and making a few copies,” he said.
After more than two hours of private meetings to iron out a resolution, the Senate voted to censure her without suspension and without further financial penalties.
Asked if she felt vindicated, Augustine said “absolutely.” She said the evidence presented in the Senate showed “that this was the result of having two former disgruntled employees.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said he wouldn’t regard censure as vindication.
“There was a conviction on article three that there was a violation of the law,” he said. “I would hardly consider that vindication.”
Raggio said the censure should serve notice not only to Augustine but to other state officials that they should take care not to mix state workers and facilities in their office with their private and campaign business.
Augustine must still continue to pay $500 a month to pay off the $15,000 ethics commission fine.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.