Nevada controller’s trial begins before Senate
December 1, 2004
The trial of Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine will resume today with testimony from former chief deputy Jim Wells, who had numerous battles with Augustine before leaving the office.
The trial began Wednesday with prosecutor Dan Greco saying Augustine made extensive use of her staff and office in her re-election campaign, while her attorneys argued she did nothing warranting removal from office.
The prosecution got a boost when the Senate directed Ethics Commission Director Stacy Jennings to answer a question about her personal opinion of Augustine’s conduct.
“In my opinion, this case consists of what I believe are the most egregious violations I’ve seen in my tenure with the commission,” Jennings said.
She has been executive director of the Ethics Commission for nearly three years.
Emphasizing the comments were exclusively her own opinion, she said Augustine should be removed from office.
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The comments came at the end of her testimony in which she explained the process used to reach a stipulation in which Augustine admitted to three willful violations of ethics laws by having her staff work on her campaign during office hours and using state computers and other equipment in that effort.
“A substantial portion of Ms. Augustine’s campaign was paid for not by traditional donations but by the taxpayers of the state of Nevada,” she said.
Testimony before the Assembly indicated at least one employee spent more than half her time on Augustine’s campaign.
Greco told members of the Nevada Senate, sitting as jury in the impeachment case, he would show Augustine had employees work on her campaign during office hours, write campaign speeches, draft requests for contributions, use state equipment and computers to maintain donor lists and prepare expense reports, use state phones to solicit contributions and prepare fund-raising invitations, and stuff envelopes in her 2002 re-election campaign.
Defense attorney John Arrascada said Augustine has already been punished for her bad judgment by the Ethics Commission, which fined her $15,000.
“We know Kathy Augustine is not a saint,” he said. “But we also know she has not committed offenses that rise up to the level that would require removal from office.”
Arrascada said the majority of the case against her is “character assassination.” He said her temper, the fact she was “mean” to employees and a demanding boss doesn’t justify impeachment and removal from office.
“Impeachment and removal from office is for the worst of the worst,” Arrascada said. “It’s the death penalty for an elected official.”
Initial witnesses included Susan Kennedy, who is no longer with the controller’s office, and Judy Heatherington and Sherry Valdez, both of whom still work in the office.
Heatherington, who ran the Las Vegas office, said she informed Augustine on several occasions that it wouldn’t be proper for her to do certain things because they were campaign activities. She said Augustine basically accepted her judgment on those issues.
Valdez testified she was convinced to participate in several of what seemed to be campaign activities and made it clear she was extremely uncomfortable testifying – especially in front of Augustine, who she said “can be very intimidating.”
She also testified she saw the primary witness in the case, Jennifer Normington, working on campaign activities numerous times and said Normington had asked her help in using a program to enter campaign expenses in a form for Augustine.
That was backed by retired chief accountant Michelle Miles, who testified she had to reassign part of Normington’s duties processing incoming checks because she was busy with other duties. She said Normington told her campaign work that was consuming her time.
Kennedy described instances where she said Augustine screamed at her and said it was very difficult to work for her.
She too said she felt pressure to help with campaign activities in the office.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.