Governor hires lawyer to fight Obamacare

By Chris Rizo | Apr 8, 2010

Jim Gibbons (R)

Catherine Cortez Masto (D)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (Legal Newsline)- Amid the Nevada attorney general's refusal to challenge the new federal health care overhaul, Gov. Jim Gibbons this week hired his own lawyer to move forward on a lawsuit.

The Republican governor on Tuesday signed an executive order, naming attorney Mark Hutchison as special legal counsel. Hutchison, a Republican, is a named partner in the Las Vegas law firm of Hutchison & Steffen LLC.

About a year ago, the law firm captured headlines for winning the largest jury award to an individual plaintiff in Nevada history - $388 million for a Las Vegas inventor who claimed years of harassment by the California Franchise Tax Board.

In a statement, Gibbons said the legal team working on the health care lawsuit is all-volunteer; the lawyers have agreed to work on behalf of the state for no compensation.

The governor had pressed Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, to represent the Silver State in a multistate lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida.

Initiated by Florida's Republican attorney general, Bill McCollum, the lawsuit alleges that insurance mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."

The health care statute, among other provisions, will require most Americans to have health insurance or face financial penalties, beginning in 2014.

Masto declined the governor's request to help take the Obama administration to court, saying the lawsuit filed by more than a dozen Republican attorneys general and one of her Democratic colleagues is without merit and would be a waste of taxpayer resources to pursue.

Gibbons shot back at Masto, who faces reelection this year.

"I was disappointed that the attorney general of Nevada refused to fight for the constitutional rights of Nevada citizens," Gibbons said. "But I refuse to surrender on this issue; we must not allow the federal government to intrude into the lives of Nevadans this way."

For her part, Masto reportedly is exploring ways to thwart the governor's legal action. Among possible moves is seeking an injunction to prevent the governor from taking official legal action without the attorney general's approval.

The landmark health care overhaul signed by President Barack Obama this month is the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.

Gibbons said the health care law will cost workers and families in Nevada about $2.4 billion.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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