Nevada Assembly ousts embattled Steven Brooks
Posted at: 03/28/2013 6:39 PM
By SANDRA CHEREB
(AP) CARSON CITY, Nev. - A troubled lawmaker whose erratic behavior dominated headlines for weeks and instilled fear among colleagues who once called him friend will go down in Nevada history as the first assemblyman ever expelled from the Legislature after his peers voted to oust him Thursday during a tearful floor session.
After a short but emotional floor session, the Assembly overwhelmingly ousted Steven Brooks from his District 17 seat representing North Las Vegas.
Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, choking through tears, called for a voice vote on a committee recommendation for expulsion, then declared, "Steven J. Brooks is hereby expelled from the Assembly."
Only a few nay votes could be heard in the Assembly chambers.
The historic move came after a series of bizarre events involving Brooks, who has been arrested twice in recent months and hospitalized for a mental health evaluation.
The Brooks saga threw the legislative session into turmoil and led to hours of closed meetings and a Select Committee hearing Tuesday night.
The seven-member panel, meeting mostly behind closed doors, voted 6-1 to recommend to expel Brooks after reviewing a 900-page report from an independent counsel appointed to investigate
The committee said the report was not made public because of the private nature of the findings.
Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, was the lone dissenter on the committee, saying she preferred a less harsh penalty like suspension.
Neal choked on emotion, often pausing to gain composure during her remarks.
"I understand that expulsion is the highest form of discipline," Neal said. "I also understand that the action is the equivalent of political death on all levels, whether it be suspension or expulsion."
But, she added, "I believe in the human form in all its frailties and all of its faults.
"I also believe in the power of human recovery."
After the somber 32-minute floor session, Neal was consoled by Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who chaired the Select Committee that recommended Brooks’ ouster.
"We did not feel safe having Assemblyman Brooks in this building," Horne said. "We wanted to protect people in this building and go about our business."
"Since the odd events which led to these proceedings, Assemblyman Brooks has continued to engage in ... unpredictable behavior," Horne said.
Reached immediately after the vote, Brooks was aghast.
"How dare they?" Brooks told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview. "I’ve been convicted of nothing."
Brooks alleged that unspecified opponents have tried to kill him. He didn’t take questions.
"Yes, tried to kill me," he said. "I’m an open book. They won’t let me testify at the Grant Sawyer Building, and they sent 100 police officers to arrest me."
"Let me ask you, how can they do that?" Brooks added before hanging up.
Brooks’ lawyer, Mitchell Posin, said he was "disappointed" and surprised, "especially because I was recently told it wasn’t going to be heard today."
Since January, Brooks has been arrested twice, involuntarily hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation, fired from his full-time job and denied a gun purchase. He was put on leave and banished from the building Feb. 11.
He filed an emergency writ with the Nevada Supreme Court, claiming the "Legislature" had no authority to put him on leave. Late Thursday, the high court unanimously dismissed his case on grounds he sued the wrong party. The Assembly put him on leave.
Brooks, 41, won re-election in November by a 2-to-1 margin over an unknown challenger. He first was arrested Jan. 19 in a car with a gun and dozens of rounds of ammunition after allegedly voicing a threat against Kirkpatrick. The state attorney general’s office is handling the case, and no charges have been filed.
He faces a felony and three lesser charges for his arrest in February after a disturbance at the home of his estranged wife, when police say he tried to grab an officer’s gun.
There were other incidents.
An anonymous complaint of an "unstable and dangerous employees" prompted an inquiry from the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which notified legislative staff in February that Brooks posed a possible workplace safety hazard.
He was kicked out of a Reno restaurant, denied a gun purchase and posed bare-chested for a newspaper photographer, allegedly to show bruises and said he suffered while being arrested, though none were clearly visible. A Las Vegas veterans’ advocate said he sold Brooks a bulletproof vest, but didn’t give him night-vision goggles that he sought.
Earlier this month, he was fired from his job as an analyst with the city of Las Vegas.
Besides the first week of the session, Brooks has not participated in the 120-day legislative process _ another concern for lawmakers who say he is not representing his North Las Vegas district.
His constituents, however, have mixed opinions on kicking him out of office.
"I actually think it’s fair," Echo Anderson, 48, said Wednesday of the expulsion proceedings. "I think he needs a timeout to get his self and his problems all situated, and maybe at a later date come back."
But another constituent, Mildred Atwater, 65, thought expelling him was too harsh.
"I think he’s able to do his job," said Atwater, who voted for Brooks and said she’d so do again, though she’s never met him.
She dismissed the notion that Brooks’ mental health should disqualify him from retaining his seat.
"All of us are a little crazy at some point in our life," Atwater said. "I think he’s all right."
When asked whether a voice vote was taken instead of a recorded roll call out of security concerns for those who favored expulsion, Kirkpatrick said voice votes are normal procedure when the Assembly moves to adopt a committee recommendation.
She said she would notify the Clark County Commission immediately of the vacancy. It will be up to the commission to appoint a Democratic replacement.
It’s the first time the Legislature initiated the expulsion of a member since a lawmaker was accused of libeling other members in 1867, although that case never came to 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.
Associated Press writers Michelle Rindels and Ken Ritter contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)