RENO, Nev. (AP) — A lawmaker who has been arrested twice in two months, hospitalized for a mental evaluation and accused of threatening to harm a Democratic Party leader could this week become the first person in Nevada history to be kicked out of the Legislature.
A select committee plans to convene Tuesday evening to recommend whether Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-Las Vegas, should be allowed to return to his seat in the Legislature, be expelled, censured or otherwise reprimanded.
The saga has served as a headache for Nevada lawmakers as they have taken up issues such as taxes, gun laws and the budget with the shadow of Brooks’ legal troubles hanging over the session. Brooks took his seat Feb. 4, but was put on leave and banished from the building a week later. He has not participated in legislative business, but will attend the Tuesday evening hearing that had to be moved to a Carson City courthouse because of security concerns given his many tangles with the law.
“It’s been an unfortunate situation that clearly has been more than a minimal distraction,” said Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who is leading the seven-member bipartisan panel.
It all started when Brooks was arrested in a car with a gun and dozens of rounds of ammunition in January after allegedly voicing a threat against Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick of North Las Vegas. Days later, Brooks was hospitalized when authorities were called to his grandmother’s home for a domestic disturbance. Around the same time, he posed shirtless for a newspaper photograph.
The timing of the arrest put the Nevada Legislature in an odd position because Brooks had to be sworn in just two weeks later, despite the fact that his superiors had to beef up security based on the threat. A police report said that Brooks had said he was “not afraid to die” and was willing to engage in a shootout, but he has not been formally charged in the case.
Then he was arrested again Feb. 10 following a domestic disturbance involving his estranged wife. Las Vegas police alleged that Brooks threw punches and grabbed for an officer’s gun. Clark County prosecutors charged him with one felony and three lesser charges which, if he is convicted, could subject him to fines up to $10,000 and as much as six years in jail.
Brooks was denied permission to buy a rifle Feb. 21 at a sporting goods store in Sparks after the Nevada Department of Public Safety reviewed background forms he had filled out. Earlier this month, the father of four lost his job of six years with the city of Las Vegas as a management analyst for Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services management analyst. He also reported his car stolen.
“It has been rough going through all of this as it would be for anyone,” said Mitchell Posin, Brooks’ lawyer said.
The panel will hear evidence from an independent counsel before recommending whether Brooks should retain his seat. The full Assembly will act on the recommendations of the committee – likely later in the week. Removing him from the Legislature requires a two-thirds majority, or 28 votes in the 42-member Assembly.
The only other time the Nevada Legislature formally considered expelling one of its members was in 1867 when the accused offender 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 some newspaper reporters from the chambers.
Assemblyman A.H. Lissak of Storey County also ridiculed another colleague, but he ultimately apologized and retracted his statements, and a vote on his ouster was postponed indefinitely.
A century and a half later, Brooks is defending himself under the same section of legislative rules that forbid “disorderly conduct.”
The target of Brooks’ disdain was the Assembly speaker and others whom he blamed for – among other things – what he considered to be weak committee assignments. But while Lissak took aim at his rivals on the pages of the Virginia City newspaper where Samuel Clemens had adopted his pen name of Mark Twain four years before, Brooks is accused of leveling physical threats that prompted lawmakers earlier this year to ban him from the building.
“This is the only other time that either house of the Legislature ever pursued an expulsion,” said Guy Rocha, a Nevada historian and former longtime state archivist.
Brooks’ lawyer has filed papers with the state Supreme Court to challenge any action that prevents him from serving voters in the district they argue legally elected him.
“He should be put back in his seat,” Posin said. “The Legislature has imposed an extra-constitutional qualification on Assemblyman Brooks’ right and duty to serve his constituents, which they cannot do.”
The Nevada Constitution gives the state Senate and Assembly jurisdiction over judging the qualifications of members. Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said in briefs filed with the high court that that includes the authority to determine its own rules and “punish its members for disorderly conduct.”
Further, Erdoes argued the Assembly had authority to “take preventative and disciplinary action” against Brooks “based on its inherent power of self-protection.”
Posin said he’s concerned the committee will adhere to much lower standards in determining Brooks’ guilt than would a courthouse jury required to find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Here in the Legislature, unfortunately in my opinion, there simply is no standard,” he said. “Here it seems like they can levy almost criminal-like sanctions against one of their own without having to comply with those kinds of requirements of proof, or even having a burden of proof.”
Posin said he intends to present a “pretty simple message” to the committee on Brooks’ behalf.
“He does not present any kind of physical threat to the speaker or anybody else,” Posin said.