Nev. panel votes to oust embattled assembly member

AP News
Posted: Mar 27, 2013 2:30 AM
Nev. panel votes to oust embattled assembly member

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A special Nevada legislative panel recommended Tuesday the expulsion of an embattled assemblyman for the first time in the history of the state Legislature.

The bipartisan committee voted 6-1 to recommend the ouster of Assemblyman Steven Brooks. His expulsion still requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly, though Assembly Majority Leader William Horne gave no indication when the full chamber might take up the matter.

The seven-member panel was tasked with recommending what action should be taken against Brooks. Since January, the 41-year-old Democrat from North Las Vegas has been arrested twice, hospitalized for a mental evaluation and placed on leave from the Legislature.

The last time the Assembly considered kicking out a sitting member was in 1867, but it never came to a final floor vote.

Horne opened the committee meeting to hear evidence and testimony on Brooks' behavior but within 20 minutes, closed the session, explaining that while he prefers open meetings, "there is a point at which we must protect privacy."

"We are dealing with real people here," he said, adding that Brooks already has been the subject of intense media attention and that it was not the panel's intention to "harm or further embarrass Mr. Brooks."

Mark Ferrario, the panel's independent counsel, said the private documents include health records and other information obtained from state agencies under the condition of confidentiality. He said redacting private material would be impractical.

"Either the procedure is confidential or it's not," he said.

Brooks' attorney, Mitchell Posin, sat alone at a small table along a wall in the courtroom that was set up for the committee hearing. He did not explain why Brooks was not present.

"It is appropriate to have some matters in public but there are also some very private documents here that do not belong in the public eye," Posin said.

Brooks, a two-term Democrat from North Las Vegas, won re-election by a 2-to-1 margin in November over an unknown challenger.

But he has been arrested twice since January — first after being accused of making threats toward colleagues including Assembly Democratic Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick. Police say he also threw punches and grabbed for the gun of an officer who was called to a domestic dispute at his estranged wife's home, on Feb. 10.

He was hospitalized after police were called to his grandmother's home for a domestic disturbance, posed shirtless for a newspaper photograph, was sworn in to the Legislature but then banished from the Legislature building as a possible security risk.

Brooks hasn't been charged with a crime in the Jan. 19 case. He is facing one felony and three lesser charges in the Feb. 10 case.

He also was denied the purchase of a gun last month at a Sparks sporting goods store.

Posin said before the hearing there's been a misunderstanding and Brooks poses no real threat to anyone.

"He does not present any kind of physical threat to the speaker or anybody else," the lawyer said.

The Assembly last initiated the expulsion of a member accused of libeling other lawmakers in 1867 but never took a formal vote. Back then, Assemblyman A.H. Lissak, of Storey County, had published a letter referring to the Assembly speaker's "sore-eyed, red-haired, baboon-looking face" in a political feud that prompted a ban on Territorial Enterprise reporters from the chambers.

Ouster requires a two-thirds majority, or 28 votes in the 42-member Assembly.

Brooks' lawyer has already filed papers with the Nevada Supreme Court to challenge legislative action to prevent Brooks from serving voters who legally elected him.

Posin argues the Legislature is taking unconstitutional steps to block Brooks' right and duty to serve his constituents.