CARSON CITY, Nev. - Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine - the first state official to be impeached - goes on trial before the Senate here Monday, accused of using state employees to run her political campaign.
Nevada's 42 Assembly members voted unanimously Nov. 11 to impeach Augustine on ethics violations, based on a yearlong investigation by the attorney general that found she had forced staff members to do the work on public time and had stored campaign information on government computers.
The second-term Republican controller has been removed from office pending the outcome of impeachment proceedings.
She acknowledged this fall to the Nevada Ethics Commission that she "reasonably should have known" about the campaign work being done for her by staffers during office hours.
Augustine was fined $15,000 for three "willful" ethics violations.
That's "a pretty big thing for us," said Stacy Jennings, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Ethics, which deals with about 100 violations a year.
Not serious enough
But, Augustine's attorneys argue, not big enough to kick her out of office two years before her four-year term expires.
"She doesn't think that what she has in fact done, and what in fact occurred, rises to the level of something for which she should be removed from office," lawyer Dominic Gentile said. "You're not removed from office for every ethics violation."
During the investigation, a handful of Augustine's employees painted her as a nasty boss who had pressured them into working on her re-election effort on taxpayer time.
One described the "wrath of Kath": "She's a screamer and a yeller and a pounder on the desk, and you just, you know, you tried to avoid an unpleasant situation with her," former Assistant Controller Jeannine Coward told an attorney general investigator in March.
Coward, who said employees sent out campaign mailings and were required to attend political events, declined to comment further.
Gov. Kenny Guinn, U.S. Sen. John Ensign and Rep. Jim Gibbons - all Republicans - have asked Augustine to step down.
"Frankly ... it puts the state in a really negative light," said Guinn spokesman Greg Bortolin. "I think everybody involved was just hoping that the controller would spare herself some embarrassment" and resign.
But personality clashes, said Augustine lawyer John Arrascada, should not bear on her trial: "Being disliked is not an impeachable offense. Being a tough boss is not an impeachable offense."
Arrascada and Gentile did not call defense witnesses during the impeachment proceedings this month. They said the fact that the attorney general's office investigated and prosecuted Augustine was a conflict of interest, and they called the process "polluted."
"It became very clear when the members of the Assembly were given 3-inch ring binders with thousands of documents within them that a close scrutiny was not going to occur and it was going to the Senate," Arrascada said.
`By the book'
Gerald Gardner, the chief deputy attorney general who prosecuted Augustine in the Assembly, said the proceeding was "100 percent by the book."
The impeachment proceedings, which will take place three months before the legislature meets in its regular biennial session, are expected to last about two weeks and cost $250,000.
The controller's office manages the state's finances and cuts government checks. Statehouse watchers have speculated that removing Augustine would give legislators an excuse to eliminate the position entirely, instead combining the duties with the state treasurer.