Monday, April 1, 2013

More Brooks Drama Ahead?

Last Friday, we found out about the current tragic twist to the Steven Brooks saga. Since then, we've heard from plenty of pundits on what just happened. Ralston obviously has had some choice words.

So has his attorney (as he's suing to make the special committee report public). Even Steven Brooks himself sounded eerily prophetic on Thursday.

"I'm the assemblyman of sorrow," he declared. "Why do they hate me so much? Fill in the blank: I'm so angry I could (blank) myself."

Brooks told me he was "on my way to Seven Hills to check myself into the hospital. He began weeping when I asked why, adding, "I have no other resort. I'm going to kill myself if they keep this up. I have nowhere to go. I'm the assemblyman of sorrow."

He would later add, "I don’t want anyone else to think I'm crazy…I'm all cried out, man. I've done everything right and it’s wrong."

Brooks also told me that the leaders were fueled by hatred of him. Why?

"You know why they hate me? You know why want to kill me because I know all of their secrets."

And in case this isn't dramatic enough, Amicus Nevada has hinted of even more Brooks drama ahead. So what can we expect? Possibly another law suit? Possibly.

In Brooks’ case, one of the early complaints about the process was that the Select Committee was not given a specific charge. By the only official public document available, Assembly Resolution 5, the Assembly found the Select Committee was charged “to consider and investigate matters within the jurisdiction of Section 6 of Article 4 of the Nevada Constitution.” Additionally, the Assembly resolved that the Select Committee is “instructed to continue its proceedings to consider and investigate matters within the jurisdiction of Section 6 of Article 4 of the Nevada Constitution.” Assemb. Res. No. 5, 77th Leg., Reg. Sess. (2013). The 687-word resolution makes not a single reference to Brooks, much less to his alleged expulsion-worthy disorderly conduct.

Seasoned political commentators and journalists still don’t know why Brooks was expelled from office, and I’d wager a guess that Brooks didn’t know the reason why either. In Steve Sebelius‘ words, the Select Committee is saying, “You have to trust us.”

The closest thing to a charging document is the letter sent to Brooks by Assemblyman William Horne. The letter states “The alleged conduct which will be the subject of the investigation includes failure to carry out certain responsibilities of an Assemblyman, engaging in unethical conduct and engaging in certain other deleterious conduct.” But this charge was never adopted by the Assembly and does not refer to specific conduct.

After the vote took place, the reason for expulsion became quite clear: Brooks was believed to be dangerous, and was proven to be at the very least unstable, as evidenced by his three arrests, most recently the same day as the expulsion vote. But ex post evidence of his instability cannot be used as a justification for the lack of sufficient due process.

Just like in the criminal arena, a legislator cannot fairly respond to charges of legislative misconduct unless the legislator is put on notice what the charges against him or her are and what the alleged wrongdoing is. This is all the more important because the Constitution limits the Assembly’s disciplinary power against its own to cases of “disorderly conduct.” So what is the disorderly conduct that warranted expulsion? We don’t know.

Even Anjeanette Damon's Sun cast doubt on the process, though she didn't get into detail (like Sean McDonald did) on the merits of a possible law suit challenging this outcome.

So will Steven Brooks actually return to the Nevada Legislature? I personally still doubt it, but I guess it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility. This likely just means there's another lesson for legislators to learn.

Why put this off for so long, only to initiate a process that invites litigation? Perhaps there was no intention to set up such a haphazard process for expulsion. But going forward, legislators will need to be more careful and thoughtful in pondering how to expel their own when they're no longer functioning in Carson City.

And perhaps Clark County Commissioners will need to be careful in wading into this mess. Already, a fight is brewing over how quickly to fill the Assembly seat just vacated by Brooks. So I guess the Steven Brooks melodrama continues...

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