Augustine trial to start Dec. 1
The Nevada Senate plans to begin the trial of state Controller Kathy Augustine Dec. 1.
Augustine was impeached Thursday by the Assembly on three counts of using her staff and office in her 2002 re-election campaign.
Augustine has been temporarily removed from the position while her case is decided. She will continue to receive her paycheck, however, since she remains innocent until proven guilty.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes laid out rules for the trial Friday, describing a format that defines the trial as a committee hearing rather than a judicial proceeding, but still puts in place some of the rules of evidence and procedure used in court.
“These are rules I can understand,” said Augustine lawyer Dominic Gentile.
“We believe with these rules we can get a fair trial in the Senate,” said co-counsel John Arrascada.
The Senate will convene as a committee of the whole to consider evidence in Augustine’s case.
The Nevada Constitution requires a two-thirds constitutional majority – 14 of 21 senators – to convict and remove her from office.
The Senate will formally convene Nov. 29 and make a few final rule changes and preparations. Raggio said the trial itself should start a day or two later, most likely Dec. 1.
Between now and then, LCB officials will meet with special prosecutor Dan Greco of the Washoe District Attorney’s Office and Augustine’s lawyers Gentile and Arrascada to further refine the rules, exchange witness lists, exhibits and briefs on the case.
According to Raggio, both sides will be pretty much held to those witnesses and exhibits during the trial.
Raggio said there will be limits generally on the time each side has for opening statements, examination of witnesses and closing statements.
Both Gentile and Arrascada said they were especially pleased they will be able to argue for some changes in the rules if they see a major problem.
The Senate can make final changes to those rules when it convenes Nov. 29.
When the trial begins, Raggio served notice that the hearings will be conducted on time – not on so-called “legislative time.” He said if the trial is set for 9 a.m., that’s when it will start, “precisely.”
He also advised members of the Senate that, since they are acting as jurors in the case, they cannot discuss the evidence or their opinions with the press or each other.
And he said senators should leave their laptops in their offices and cellular phones off so that no one can accuse them of receiving opinions or evidence from outside the committee.
Raggio said evidence will be confined to what is “relevant and germane.”
“However, formal rules of evidence will not apply since this is a legislative procedure and not a judicial procedure,” he said.
At the conclusion of the trial, he said senators will vote on each of the three articles of impeachment.
The possible penalties are not confined to removal from office but will include a full range of potential sanctions as well as acquittal.
Carson City Republican Mark Amodei will wield the gavel during the committee of the whole. Amodei is President Pro Tempore of the Senate, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a lawyer.
Augustine is charged in the articles of impeachment with coercing her staff into working for her re-election.
In fact, according to witnesses in the Assembly, at least one staff member spent more than half her time on the campaign, not state business. In addition, the articles charge that campaign records, contributor lists, financial reports and other data were generated and kept on state computers and that other state office equipment was used extensively on the 2002 campaign.
Gerald Gardner of the Attorney General’s Office charged that she ran her re-election campaign out of the state Capitol.
She is the first state constitutional officer to be impeached in Nevada and, if two-thirds of Senators agree, would be the first removed from office for ethical and legal violations.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.