Published Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008 | 10:24 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008 | 3:25 p.m.
CARSON CITY – A district judge today dismissed a civil suit that sought to remove Robert Loux from his post as head of the state’s nuclear waste office because he had raised his own salary for several years.
District Judge Bill Maddox ruled that the law to remove public officials applies only to local government officers and not to state officials.
Judy Sheldrew, the attorney for Loux, said called the suit brought by conservative spokesman Chuck Muth “frivolous.” Sheldrew said she would now turn her attention to a complaint filed with the state Ethics Commission by Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno.
Sheldrew said she would seek attorney fees to be paid by Muth.
The hearing lasted less than 30 minutes in Carson City District Court and Muth later said he would not appeal the decision. But Muth said he would “put pressure” on the attorney general’s office to investigate whether a crime had been committed.
The attorney general’s office has declined to represent Loux in his legal fight to retain his job.
Gov. Jim Gibbons called for the resignation of Loux who has served as the first and only director since the office was created. Loux said he would listen to the will of the commission. He has been the director leading the fight against Yucca Mountain under both Democrat and Republican governors.
The Commission on Nuclear Projects, to whom Loux reports, meets Sept. 23 to discuss the case. Chairman Richard Bryan, a former governor and U.S. Senator, said he did not think Loux should resign.
Maddox, in dismissing the suit, said Loux could be removed only by impeachment by the Legislature. The Assembly would have to file and approve articles of impeachment. And the Senate would have to concur. It would take a two-thirds vote in each house, Maddox said.
Several hours after the Maddox decision, the Legislative Commission approved starting audits on 31 state agencies and programs including the Agency for Nuclear Projects.
Legislative Auditor Paul Townsend said this is a routine audit and was not scheduled because of the recent controversy involving Loux. The last legislative audit of the nuclear projects was in 2000.
Townsend told the commission these agencies are chosen for audits based on the amount of money handled and past problems.
Before the ruling by Maddox, Sheldrew said she intended to file a motion to dismiss. She cited the same prior cases as referred to the judge in ruling he did not have authority to hear the case.
Loux gave no comments to several questions.
Muth’s lawyer Les Bradshaw did not make any argument opposing the dismissal by the judge.
Research by the governor’s office shows Loux will earn $151,542 this fiscal year, or 32 percent above the authorized $114,088. It showed he has been giving himself and his staff extra raises for at least the past four years.
Loux admitted to the Legislative Interim Finance Committee that he made an error in giving pay raises above those authorized in the law. He said however that one of his employees left and the staff had to pick up extra work. So he divided her salary among himself and the other employees.