Move to dismiss impeachment charges against Augustine rejected
The Nevada Senate refused Monday to dismiss articles of impeachment against Controller Kathy Augustine. Her trial, the first of its kind in state history, will begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Augustine pleaded innocent to accusations she had employees work on her campaign and used state computers and other facilities in her reelection campaign two years ago. She did not comment further Monday.
In September, Augustine admitted to the state Ethics Commission she willfully violated state ethics law. She was fined $15,000, the biggest fine ever levied by the ethics commission.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, was the only vote Monday for dismissal of the charges. He said afterward, “I think my no vote speaks for itself.”
During earlier committee discussion of Augustine’s motion, Coffin said he thought the three articles of impeachment against her “were drawn up before the evidence was gathered.”
Augustine’s lawyers will argue she did nothing serious enough to justify removal from office. “If everything on the face of the articles of impeachment is proven,” attorney Dominic Gentile said, “nothing warrants removal.”
Gentile said he would compare Augustine’s conduct to actions by other public officials. Special prosecutor Dan Greco said what other officials have or haven’t done “is absolutely irrelevant.”
“Mr. Gentile has made it clear he believes there’s evidence of other officials doing the same thing,” he said. “The first time he attempts to present that, you’re going to hear a loud objection from me.”
He said the evidence would show Augustine’s misuse of state workers and property was far more serious than the “incidental use” permitted by state law. There was testimony before the Nevada Assembly that executive assistant Jennifer Normington spent more than half her time on the re-election campaign for six months leading to the 2002 election.
When the trial begins, the 21 members of the Senate will act as both judge and jury for Augustine. That raised some questions from members, especially senators who aren’t lawyers.
Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, asked how non-lawyers in the Senate can get answers to legal questions during the trial. Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, the lawyer who will chair the committee of the whole during the trial, said members will have to answer those questions for themselves.
Legal Counsel Brenda Erdoes confirmed that judgment, although she said she and her staff are available to senators on an individual basis to discuss legal matters.
Beers said he thinks he and other non lawyers are going to need guidance on legal issues that come up.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, admonished members of the Senate he intends to start all proceedings in the trial at the scheduled time. He made the comments after several Southern Nevada members were late Monday because they couldn’t get air flights out of Las Vegas Sunday night.
But just two hours later, after the lunch break, it was Raggio who was late convening the Senate to vote on the motion to dismiss the charges. He called a caucus in his office just a minute before the Senate was to convene while most of the Democrats waited on the floor.
Greco and Gentile have estimated the trial will take as long as two weeks. Greco said he has 10-13 witnesses and the case is “not particularly complex.” He said the unknown commodity is how much time questions from the Senators will add.
The controller has been temporarily removed from office until a conclusion of the Senate trial, but continues to draw her $80,000-a-year salary.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.
What happens next:
• When the trial begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the 21 members of the Senate will act as both judge and jury for Controller Kathy Augustine.
• Special prosecutor Dan Greco and defense attorney Dominic Gentile have estimated the trial will take as long as two weeks.
• The controller continues to draw her $80,000-a-year salary, but has been temporarily removed from office until a conclusion of the trial.