February 18, 2020
18 Feb 2020

Political Update – February 18, 2020

Lawyers spar in Nevada high court over representation in tax case

Bill Dentzer
Las Vegas Review-Journal

February 11, 2020

Attorneys debated Tuesday before the Nevada Supreme Court whether lawyers for the Legislature can defend Democratic lawmakers in a lawsuit filed by their Republican colleagues, a preliminary skirmish in what will likely be a precedent-setting case.

Amid extensive questioning from all seven justices, the court Tuesday allowed arguments to run nearly double the originally allotted 30 minutes, with Chief Justice Kristina Pickering promising at the conclusion that the court would rule “as expeditiously as possible.”

The underlying case is a lawsuit filed by all eight Senate Republicans in July challenging the legality of two tax bills passed with Democratic majority support last session. Republicans contend the bills required two-thirds majority support in both houses to pass; they fell one vote short of that margin in the Senate.

While arguing the tax case in Carson City District Court, however, lawyers for the Republican senators objected to attorneys for the Legislative Counsel Bureau representing defendants such as Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas; Senate Secretary Claire Clift and Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, who presides over the state Senate. District Court Judge James Todd Russell sided with the Republicans, and ruled the defendants needed to hire their own outside lawyers so the Legislative Counsel Bureau could maintain its bipartisan neutrality.

On Tuesday, Justice James Hardesty was critical of Russell’s suggestion that legislative lawyers “picked sides” in the dispute, and lawyers for both sides affirmed that there was nothing in the court record to suggest such a scenario.

“As far as taking direction, on behalf of the organization, it’s the majority rule concept,” said Kevin Powers, chief litigation counsel for the bureau. “So if the Legislature as the majority decides to direct us to do something, we would have to do that.”

Powers also argued the GOP plaintiffs gratuitously named Cannizzaro and the other legislative defendants in the lawsuit in a strategic move to get legislative lawyers removed from the case.

“The plaintiffs chose to put them in this case,” Powers said. “They made a tactical and calculated litigation decision.”

Later, under questioning by Hardesty, GOP lawyer Karen Peterson at first demurred on why those defendants were included. She later said the plaintiff’s lawsuit “didn’t need the Legislature at all” but quickly pivoted.

“We did need those parties, we absolutely needed those parties, because they were the ones that violated the Constitution when they approved” the tax bills, she said.


Quote of
the week



“(LCB) did pick and choose sides, they absolutely did. What I have a problem with is they’re admitting they don’t even do an analysis if there’s a conflict of interest.”

Karen Peterson,
the lawyer representing Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, and 10 other co-plaintiffs signed on to the suit

Was Nevada’s 2019 tax extension legal? Supreme court hears arguments in partisan fight

James DeHaven, Reno Gazette Journal
February 11, 2020

The Nevada Supreme Court could soon decide a bitter partisan legal fight over a statewide tax extension legislative Republicans say is unconstitutional. 

The state’s highest court on Tuesday heard an hour of passionate arguments about whether the Legislative Counsel Bureau — the attorneys who represent all elected members of the Nevada Legislature — improperly sided with Democratic state lawmakers who pushed through the controversial revenue-raising maneuver. 

A district court judge in November ruled Democrats would have to hire new, non-LCB Attorney’s to defend the move, explaining that failing to do so would pose a potentially serious conflict of interest.

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