Gansert wins initial legal battle over lawsuit challenging executive, legislative roles
In a win for Republican state Sen. Heidi Gansert, a Carson City District Court judge ruled against a libertarian think tank’s lawsuit challenging her dual employment as a state lawmaker and executive at the University of Nevada, Reno.
In a bench ruling on Tuesday, Judge James Russell moved to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute claiming Gansert’s continued employment at the state’s flagship university violated constitutional prohibitions on serving in more than one branch of government at a time.
The move is a victory for Gansert, who has held her position as “Executive Director of External Relations” for the university since October 2012 and took an unpaid leave of absence during the 120-day legislative session. The position was created for Gansert after she stepped down as Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff.
“I thought the lawsuit was meritless from the beginning and am pleased the court dismissed it,” she said in a text message. “I’m glad this issue has been decided.”
NPRI attorney Joseph Becker said that the group hadn’t decided yet whether to file an appeal, and wouldn’t make a decision until the actual order was filed in the next two weeks, after which the group will have 30 days to file an appeal. The think tank filed the suit on behalf of a plaintiff named Doug French who desired her job with the university.
Becker expressed surprise that Russell decided to rule against the group, saying that the judge appeared to ignore cases cited by the group in their arguments in favor of a non-binding opinion from the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau.
“He seemed pretty determined to do what what he did, irrespective of what the law says,” he said.
Nevada courts have never directly ruled on whether or not the state Constitution prohibits all or just some executive branch employees from serving in the legislative branch. Russell appeared to side with arguments issued by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, which has held that low-level employees in the executive branch that don’t wield “executive” authority are permitted to serve in the Legislature.
The Nevada Constitution states that “no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”
A similar case against Democratic state Sen. Mo Denis — a former IT specialist at the Public Utilities Commission — was declared moot by the courts after he resigned to take another position.
Gansert served between 2004 and 2008 in the state Assembly before leaving to become Sandoval’s chief of staff, and was elected to the state Senate in 2016.