Who Can Represent the Governor in a Lawsuit, Redux

With the passage of the health care bill, the Governor has renewed his call for the Attorney General to file suit to challenge the legality of the bill.  Earlier in this blog, I wrote a post about what might happen if the Governor demanded the Attorney General file a lawsuit and the Attorney General refused.  Now that the health care bill has been signed into law and other states have already filed legal challenges and the Nevada Attorney General has refused to comply with the Governor’s request that Nevada join in the litigation, that question deserves further scrutiny.

You can see a copy of the primary legal challenge to the health care bill here.  Thirteen states joined in this lawsuit, and you can see that the plaintiffs are each respective state “by and through” their Attorney General.  The case was filed in a Florida federal court.  Another case is pending in Virginia.

NRS 228.110(2) says that “”[n]o officer, commissioner or appointee of the Executive Department of the Government of the State of Nevada shall employ any attorney at law or counselor at law to represent the State of Nevada withinthe State, or to be compensated by state funds, directly or indirectly, as an attorney acting within the State for the State of Nevada or any agency in the Executive Department thereof unless the Attorney General and his deputies are disqualified to act in such matter or unless an act of the Legislature specifically authorizes the employment of other attorneys or counselors at law.”   (emphasis added).

Because the litigation in which the Governor wants to join is pending outside of Nevada, the general prohibition on hiring outside counsel in the statute may be inapplicable.  In that case, the Governor could be within his legal authority to utilize outside counsel to join in the pending litigation over the health care bill, so long as that litigation is conducted outside of Nevada.  On the other side of that argument however, NRS 228.110(1) says that the Attorney General is the legal adviser on “all state matters arising in the Executive Department,” which could be interpreted to mean that only the Attorney General can represent the state outside of Nevada.  The issue is uncharted legal territory in Nevada, and it will be fascinating to see how this one unfolds.

On the political side of the issue, the Georgia Attorney General is facing talk of impeachment after he refused a similar order to file suit from the Georgia Governor.  You can read about it here.  Governor Perdue has since talked about hiring outside counsel to represent the state.  The Nevada Attorney General will likely catch similar political heat over her decision in the months to come.

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