by AMY KINGSLEY -- A special committee met Tuesday night behind closed doors and took the unprecedented step of recommending expulsion for an elected member of the General Assembly – District 17 representative Steven Brooks.
Political pundits and journalists followed the proceedings from the hallway outside the closed courtroom, and covered the subsequent public announcement. Via Twitter, both Jon Ralston and Anjeanette Damon expressed concern about the secrecy of the process.
"They said, 'We believe he is unfit to serve, but we will not tell you why," Ralston said, in an interview with KNPR's State of Nevada.
This is the first time the legislature is preparing to eject one of its members. The full assembly may vote on the committee’s recommendations as early as this week.
Even though Tuesday night's hearings were closed, the public already knows at least part of the story. Brooks’ erratic behavior has grabbed headlines since mid-January, when police arrested him for allegedly threatening Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkaptrick. One week later, authorities detained him for psychiatric evaluation after they found him wielding a sword at a relative’s house. He also faces felony charges related to a domestic disturbance in early February.
The assemblyman's run-ins with police have raised questions about how we treat mental illness in Nevada, and the widespread availability of guns. Brooks had a gun in his car when police arrested him the first time and later tried to purchase another firearm from a sporting goods store in Sparks. The owner refused to make the sale.
Steven Brooks has been banned from the legislative building since February 11. In the KNPR interview, Jon Ralston said that Brooks is unfit to serve, but expelling the assemblyman could provoke a federal lawsuit.
Brooks and his attorney could file a federal lawsuit. They have already filed papers in the Nevada Supreme Court to challenge the Assembly’s efforts to keep him from serving his term.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a controversial lawmaker from Harlem, successfully challenged his ejection by Congress in the 1960s. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the House of Representatives couldn't take his seat away or deprive him of seniority.
The Brooks case takes the state into uncharted waters, and it’s unclear whether the Assembly has the authority to remove a member who hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
Nonetheless, the assembly is doing what they think is the best thing for the state and for Brooks, Ralston said. The decision on whether it’s legal or not may be up to the courts.
Jon Ralston, host, Ralston Reports