Nev. panel votes to oust embattled assembly member

AP News
Posted: Mar 27, 2013 5:12 AM
Nev. panel votes to oust embattled assembly member

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A special Nevada legislative panel has recommended the expulsion of an embattled assemblyman in a move that could make history in the state Legislature.

The bipartisan committee voted 6-1 Tuesday to recommend the ouster of Assemblyman Steven Brooks.

The expulsion 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.

Brooks' attorney, Mitchell Posin, said the vote was "disappointing, of course. I hope when the Assembly meets to consider this, they see another side of this as Ms. Neal did."

He was referring to Assemblywoman Dina Neal, the North Las Vegas Democrat who cast the lone dissenting vote. She said she preferred suspending Brooks.

"I was at a crossroads and I know Steven Brooks needs help," she said.

Horne reiterated the difficulty of the panel's job and said it had been "difficult watching these events the last few months."

"I believe, as others, that Steven — Mr. Brooks — is not ready, not capable of serving in this body," Horne said. "I haven't seen and I was hoping to see something that would lead me to see something to think he may be able to. I really hope he does seek that help."

The committee met for three hours behind closed doors to consider Brooks' behavior and medical issues. Horne said that while he preferred open meetings, "there is a point at which we must protect privacy."

He added 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.

Posin sat alone in the courtroom that was set up for the hearing. He did not explain why Brooks was not present, but agreed with the decision to close the meeting to the public.

"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.

Since January, his behavior became increasingly erratic and spiraled downward. He was arrested after being accused of making threats toward colleagues and again after police say he threw punches and grabbed for the gun of an officer who was called to a domestic dispute at his estranged wife's home.

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 threat case, but faces one felony and three lesser charges in the case involving the police officer.

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

Posin said before the hearing that Brooks poses no real threat to anyone.

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.

An 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 elected him.

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