Augustine won’t be charged
The Nevada Attorney General lifted one load from Controller Kathy Augustine’s back Wednesday, announcing he won’t pursue criminal charges against her.
Augustine has been fined and chastised by the Ethics Commission after admitting to willful violations of state ethical rules by forcing her staff to work on her 2002 re-election campaign and using her office and its equipment in that effort.
The Ethics Commission, as part of its decision, forwarded a report on Augustine’s activities to the Legislature, which must now consider whether to hold impeachment proceedings.
Gov. Kenny Guinn has said he believes she should resign for misusing her office and violating the public trust, adding that he will call the Legislature into session in November to consider removing her if she doesn’t.
If that happens, Augustine would be the first constitutional officer in Nevada history to face impeachment.
She and one of her lawyers, Dominic Gentile, have said she has no intention of resigning.
Beyond that, Attorney General Brian Sandoval’s staff was reviewing evidence of possible criminal violation by Augustine. Under the Nevada Constitution, any criminal charges would be considered separate from impeachment.
But Sandoval decided Wednesday to give Augustine a break, announcing the impeachment process is “the most appropriate forum for justice in this matter.”
“It’s the most powerful and, because this is an elected position and her violations occurred within the sphere of her office, an impeachment proceeding will serve the ends of justice and the people of Nevada,” said Sandoval. “We are therefore directing our attention instead to preparations for impeachment.”
Sandoval also said that, during an impeachment proceeding, Augustine would have the opportunity for due process before the Assembly, which would review the Ethics Commission report and its own evidence then decide, by a majority vote, whether to issue articles of impeachment – essentially the same as a grand jury indictment.
Her trial, then, would be held before the Nevada Senate, which would require a two-thirds majority to remove her from office.
But exactly how that process plays out is not spelled out in the constitution. And since it has never happened before, Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich has said it isn’t at all clear exactly how impeachment would proceed in either house of the Legislature.
He said legal counsel and researchers have been working on the issue since ethics charges were first filed against Augustine, and he and legislative counsel have been in contact with legislative leaders trying to decide exactly how to proceed.
Finally, there is nothing in the law prohibiting the attorney general from changing his mind about a criminal complaint, especially if new or additional evidence emerges.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.