District Judge throws out separation of powers lawsuit
February 27, 2012
A Carson City district judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a conservative Nevada think tank claiming that a lawmaker violated the state constitution’s separation of powers clause by also working as a public employee.
The lawsuit was dismissed because the lawmaker targeted in the case by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, left his job with the state Public Utilities Commission last year. He now works in the private sector.
Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, said the decision will be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.
In dismissing the case, District Judge James Todd Russell said in a brief order filed Friday: “The Nevada Supreme Court has clearly held that it is, ‘Of course, the duty of every judicial tribunal is to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions or to declare principles of law which cannot affect the matter in issue before it.”
NPRI had asked the court to proceed with the case even with Denis’ departure from state service, arguing the matter should continue as a matter of “widespread importance.”
In announcing the intent to appeal, Becker said: “The separation-of-powers clause in Nevada’s constitution is perfectly clear – a sitting state legislator is not allowed to exercise any functions in the executive or judicial branch of state government. This principle is foundational to Nevada’s government, and that’s why we strongly oppose the court’s decision to dismiss Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al.
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“Although Sen. Mo Denis resigned from his executive-branch employment within hours of being served with CJCL’s lawsuit – a de facto admission on the merits of the case – it is hard to imagine a case that better satisfies the ‘Public Interest’ exception to the mootness doctrine than this one,” he said.