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Nevada Legislature refuses to release report on ousted lawmaker

The state Legislature has rejected a demand by Nevada media for a report commissioned by a panel that recommended the expulsion of Assemblyman Steven Brooks.

In a 16-page response to a two-page open records request, the state Legislative Counsel Bureau cited nine grounds on which it said the state public records law doesn't apply to the report, which the panel reviewed behind closed doors.

It also asserted the Assembly had "absolute and paramount power" under the state constitution to conduct closed meetings and withhold documents it reviews.

"All of the documents you requested have, from the time they were collected for use at the committee hearing, been kept strictly confidential," Legislature lawyer Brenda Erdoes wrote in the reply, dated Thursday, to media attorney Donald Campbell.

Erdoes asserted that Brooks declined a chance to make the materials public.

Campbell filed the formal open records request March 28 on behalf of 13 newspaper and broadcast entities including The Associated Press and the Nevada Press Association. He was in court Friday and unavailable for immediate comment.

Campbell noted previously that the report was produced at taxpayer expense for consideration by an elected body about the fate of a public official, and was "by its very nature" open to public scrutiny. He added that some elements of the report might be redacted to comply with federal health privacy laws.

Press association executive Barry Smith said Friday that media need to address the "absolute and paramount" lawmaker secrecy assertion.

"It's a legal argument for how and why the Nevada Legislature should be able to meet and deliberate in secret, and then act on the basis of a secret document," Smith said. "I hope it doesn't represent the Legislature's view of its responsibility to the public. I'm certain that it doesn't represent the public's view of the Legislature's responsibility to the people of Nevada."

The report consists of two, 25-page summaries and a thick white binder with 900 pages of supporting material. It was prepared by a Las Vegas attorney hired Feb. 28 as the panel's independent counsel, and was considered by the panel behind closed doors on March 26.

The seven-member Assembly commission emerged to vote 6-1 to recommend Brooks' expulsion. The Assembly on March 28 ratified the recommendation by voice vote, making Brooks the first elected Nevada lawmaker expelled from office since statehood in 1864.

Brooks responded that he had been convicted of no crime. But he had been arrested twice -- on allegations that he threatened at least one other lawmaker, and after a physical scuffle with a police officer called to a domestic argument at his estranged wife's home.

Brooks was arrested a third time after a freeway chase and violent struggle with police in California just hours after being expelled from the Nevada Assembly.

He was being held in a county jail in San Bernardino County pending court appearances on felony charges including resisting an officer, felony evading and assault on a police dog.

Also backing the open records request are the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, Reno Gazette-Journal, The Nevada Appeal and KLAS-TV Channel 8 in Las Vegas, along with Las Vegas City Life, Las Vegas Weekly, El Tiempo Las Vegas, VegasInc., Pahrump Valley Times, Mesquite Local News and Las Vegas Business Press.