By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
In a debate Thursday between Republicans running for attorney general, candidates Sigal Chattah and Tisha Black generally agreed on issues like Nevada’s law governing abortion, the use of outside counsel by the AG’s office and in their promise to combat “overreach” by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, if he is re-elected.
The debate, televised on Nevada Newsmakers and co-hosted by Sam Shad and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks, turned into a defensive battle for both lawyer/candidates.
Chattah defended herself against Black’s charges of being “soft on crime” as a criminal-defense lawyer.
Black defended herself against charges of contributing $30,000 to Sisolak because she was on the board of directors of a marijuana dispensary that Chattah said donated that amount to the governor.
“Tisha is on the board of directors for Clear River LLC, which is a dispensary which donated three times — maxed out to Sisolak,” Chattah said, adding that one of the donations came at the height of the Covid crisis.
“When you contribute to a governor, during the time when the whole state is falling, then that is a ratification of the governor’s policy,” she said.
Black called the allegations a lie: “I have never given Steve Sisolak a dime in my life.”
Black challenged Chattah’s guilt-by-association accusation with the best line of the debate: “So Sigal, if you had a corn dog at Disney, I guess that means you’re woke.”
Addressing Chattah’s charge, however, Black said: “First of all, the board of directors of Clear River have no authority whatsoever to make any contribution. That’s not in the purview of that board’s authority. Under that analogy, since I am associated with that company, any company that I am associated with now, I’m going to be tagged with the contribution to their political choices. That’s absurd.”
Records show that Black has never contributed personally to Sisolak, although she has contributed to other Democrats, reported the Nevada Independent.
Black was also critical of Chattah’s career defending criminals in court.
“To me it is unimaginable that you would spent 20 years as a criminal defense attorney, undermining police and wasting taxpayer money and then turn around and say you want to be attorney general,” Black said.
Chattah countered: “My opponent has a fundamental issue with the 6th amendment’s right to counsel … Everybody has a 6th amendment right to counsel and to undermine defense attorneys is a huge problem and demonstrates that she has a lack of standing to be the top prosecutor and the top cop of the state.”
“To that Black said, “…You’ve been, to your credit, very good at being a criminal defense attorney. But that is, by it’s definition, soft on crime.”
Both said Nevada law on abortion is clear. Nevada voters enacted statutory protections for abortion choice through a ballot question in 1990. Recent leaks of a Supreme Court opinion draft have many anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court may soon strike down the landmark abortion protection case, Roe vs. Wade. Both candidates misspoke, saying protections for abortion are in the constitution.
“In Nevada, we know that a ballot question in1990 made it very clear that the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is in embedded in our constitution,” Chattah said. “So really, the attorney general has no position or jurisdiction in that office.
“I’m pro life, and as somebody who is pro life, I would definitely take the position that life begins at the fetal heartbeat,” she added.
Black said she is wary about commenting on opinions that have yet to be handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, but added: “I would agree that it is a states’ rights issue.”
She said she would not seek any changes in Nevada’s law: “I feel that the citizens have voted on it.”
Both candidates criticized current Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford for giving more attention to national issues than state concerns. Ford pushed two bills in the Nevada Legislature that came in response to national issues — “pattern and practice” police investigations and limits of “no-knock” warrants. Ford mentioned the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police in 2020 during an interview on Nevada Newsmakers when discussing “no-knock” warrants.
“One of the major problems of the Attorney General’s office today is the lack of leadership that is Nevada-centric,” Black said. “Attorney General Ford has spent a lot of time on D.C. platforms rather than Nevada platforms.”
Both were also critical of Ford when a state panel chose a private law firm — and Ford’s former employer — to litigate Nevada’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“This was clearly an abuse of that office, whether he stated that he abstained from that vote,” Chattah said of Ford. “But ultimately, it created headlines and has had a really bad effect of the reputation of the Office of Attorney General. As the attorney general, I would mitigate that and would use private law firms only on a necessary basis.”
Black said the use of outside counsel “depends on the issue involved.”
She added: “But the attorney general’s office has 120 very capable attorneys. I think what is happening in the attorney general’s office is a failure of leadership to direct them toward cases that are important to Nevada. Attorney General Ford has been representing Harvard, using our resources here to support cases for Harvard, not our resources to support Nevada.”
Both candidates said cities have the right to remove and displace homeless encampments.
Both said they would stand up to Sisolak if he is re-elected governor.
“If he exercised abusive powers, as we have seen, then I would definitely put him in his place and engage in whatever procedures I can,” Chattah said.
Chattah has already shown to be a strong challenger to Sisolak, leading lawsuits against Sisolak’s Covid response in issues of Nevada’s vaccine rollout, occupancy limits for churches during the pandemic and restrictions on attendance at the Legislature during the 2021 session.
“I think my track record has already established that,” Chattah said about her potential to challenge Sisolak.
Black said she would try to work with Sisolak, if he was re-elected. Yet she would keep an eye on any “overreach.”
“It is not productive for Nevada to spend four years bludgeoning somebody,” she said. “I would work to find the areas that we can do the best for Nevada and work to promote those. But if he is doing things that I feel is overreach, then my job as top attorney in the state of Nevada is to prevent that from happening and ensure there’s proper separation in Nevada.”