City councilman Michael Carrigan of Sparks, Nev., poses for a portrait at the site of a proposed casino in his ward. His ethics case, Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, is set for argument with the Supreme Court on April 27. (David Calvert/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Here in Arizona, we are used to strange interactions between ethics and politics (yes, dear reader, they do intersect).

But when we feel we may have things somewhat well in hand, all we need to do is gaze northwest, where the State of Nevada reminds us that all is odd in the universe.

The question posed in the latest Silver State brouhaha: Whether an elected official’s vote is an exercise of free speech.

Sparks City Councilman Michael Carrigan (and the Washington Post) convey the basis for the debate, which will be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court this Wednesday, April 27:

“I have the distinction of being the only elected official in Nevada to ever be brought up on ethics charges for losing a vote,” Carrigan said.
“The question is whether Carrigan should even have participated in an application for a new casino in this boomtown near Reno. It has turned into a major constitutional showdown with national implications for how states may police public officials who face a potential conflict of interest in conducting the people’s business.”

The state ethics commission had determined that Carrigan “crossed the line when he voted on the casino issue after his longtime friend and volunteer campaign manager was hired by the developer.”

“Nevada’s law forbids a public official from voting on an issue when a ‘reasonable person’ would suspect a conflict because of financial ties or the interest of a spouse or family member. It also includes a catch-all category for ‘any other commitment or relationship that is substantially similar to a commitment or relationship’ like those spelled out.”

Read the whole story here.

For more information on the Supreme Court case (Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, Docket No. 10-568), click here.

Today’s odd news story comes out of Nevada (I’m pretty sure that’s not the first time I’ve ever written that sentence).

It arises from a state court judge who was confronted with a routine criminal case. Matthew Palazzolo had been arrested for selling marijuana to a police informant in a Lake Tahoe casino parking lot (which is odd, because I thought that’s what casino parking lots were for).

The story reveals that the lad worked at a Sacramento law firm (I’m pretty confident that the past tense is appropriate for the previous sentence). Unfortunately, nothing more is said about what he did at the firm—maybe he was in charge of snacks.

In any case, Palazzolo had initially gotten a California prescription for medical marijuana after crying “sore back” to a doctor. The pot he was arrested for selling? It was home grown.

The judge decided to take a unique route toward rehabilitation. As the story says, “District Judge Dave Gamble ordered Matthew Palazzolo to write a report on what the judge called the ‘nonsensical character’ of California’s medical marijuana law.”

(Yes, I know. His name is Judge Gamble. I don’t make this stuff up.)

Judge Gamble ordered the defendant to write a paper that displays Palazzolo’s realization that pot led him to use more powerful drugs.

This may be unique in court history. I know other defendants have had to demonstrate their contrition in unique ways, sometimes even in essays. But asking a defendant to write a paper which argues that a law is incorrect?

It sounds like it wasn’t just one defendant on trial there. Judge Gamble’s going after California voters.

Now wouldn’t we all enjoy reading that report? It’s due in 90 days—let’s hope it’ll be published (hello, Las Vegas newspapers?!).

Read the news story here.