Impeachment will be conducted like a legislative hearing
Nevada Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins said this morning Kathy Augustine will face a committee hearing rather than a court proceeding when the Assembly considers whether to impeach her.
The Legislature opened in special session at 10 a.m. as ordered by Gov. Kenny Guinn to consider charges that Augustine used her state staff and office to help with her re-election campaign. She stipulated to three willful violations before the Nevada Commission on Ethics and agreed to pay a $15,000 fine.
Perkins said that means there will be no prosecutor to handle the case and no cross examination of witnesses testifying before the Assembly – which will hear the case as a committee of the whole.
Perkins described the burden of proof as less than in the Senate, which will actually try Augustine if the lower house issues articles of impeachment. But he indicated he doesn’t think they have a variety of other options such as censure.
“I believe we can either impeach or not,” he said, adding that what happens to Augustine after that is up to the Senate.
He said Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval and his staff along with Augustine’s defense team will suggest witnesses to hear from but that how the committee conducts the hearing will be up to the Assembly.
And, he made it clear, there is no legal standard setting the burden of proof lawmakers should use in deciding whether to impeach.
“This is not a court of law,” he said.
And he said the rules are pretty much up to the Assembly itself.
“The constitution is very clear. It says the Assembly has the sole power to impeach,” said Perkins. “It doesn’t tell us how.”
Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said staff has been reviewing how other states have handled impeachment for some guidance – particularly looking at what sort of crimes warrant impeachment.
“The standard has pretty much been that it does not have to be a crime. It can be a violation of the law or a breach of the public trust,” she said.
Asked about the comments by some that every public official in some way or another does what Augustine did – use their office to win re-election – Perkins said this isn’t the case here.
“I don’t believe everybody does this,” he said. “Not to the level that’s been brought to our attention.”
He and Buckley also dismissed any suggestion the impeachment is partisan pointing out that several of Nevada’s top Republicans have called for her to resign as controller.
If she is impeached by the Assembly – which legally is similar to a grand jury indictment and requires only a simple majority vote – Perkins said a committee of three Assembly members will be named to present the charges to the Senate.
But before Augustine faces trial by the Senate, he said she will get at least 10 days for her defense team to prepare their case.
Details of how the Senate will handle the situation haven’t yet been finalized. The constitution states only that it takes a two-thirds constitutional majority – 14 of 21 Senators – to remove her from office.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.