Nevada court hears arguments on Legislature lawyers question

AP

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Supreme Court justices are considering whether lawyers for the Legislature can defend Democratic lawmakers in a lawsuit filed by Republican colleagues.

Chief Justice Kristina Pickering promised Tuesday that the court will rule as quickly as possible in what could be a precedent-setting case brought by Senate Republicans challenging the legality of two tax bills that passed with Democratic majority support last session, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Republicans contend in a lawsuit filed in July that Democrats violated the state Constitution because the bills required two-thirds majority support in both houses to pass, but fell one vote short of that margin in the Senate.

Lawyers for the Republican senators have objected to attorneys for the Legislative Counsel Bureau representing defendants including Senate Democratic Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, Senate Secretary Claire Clift and Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, who presides over the Senate.

Carson City District Court Judge James Todd Russell sided with the Republicans, ruling in November the Democratic defendants need to hire their own lawyers so the Legislative Counsel Bureau could maintain neutrality.

During oral arguments before the seven-member state high court on Tuesday, Justice James Hardesty questioned Russell’s suggestion that legislative lawyers picked sides in the dispute. Attorneys on both sides acknowledged there was nothing in the court record suggesting they had.

Kevin Powers, chief litigator for the bureau, said bureau attorneys have to follow what a majority in the Legislature tells the bureau to do. He said the Republican senators suing the Legislature weren’t acting as lawmakers entitled to representation from the institution’s lawyers.

Karen Peterson, representing the Republicans, said the Legislature, as the client in the case, “doesn’t get tell the lawyer whether the lawyer has a conflict or not.”

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