Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura left the federal courthouse Tuesday without permission during a settlement conference for a wrongful termination lawsuit involving two of his former officers and his office’s former insurance provider, according to court records.
Allen Lichtenstein, an attorney for the former officers who was at the settlement conference, criticized the development, saying that all the other parties involved in the case have acted in good faith.
Bonaventura and his attorney, Robert Pool, dispute how they are represented in the official court minutes of the proceedings. They plan to file a motion seeking to get the minutes corrected.
The incident was the latest dispute involving the constable’s office, which has been hit with a widely criticized foray into reality television, lawsuits from former staffers and other headline-grabbing actions, which include a deputy missing a body at a residence. Those and other problems led Clark County commissioners to abolish the office, effective January 2015.
“Everyone acted in good faith except for the constable and his attorneys,” Lichtenstein said.
Because it was a settlement conference, each of involved parties — the attorneys for the former officers, the constable and his counsel, Clark County, and the insurance company’s attorneys — was in a separate room, with a U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach passing information between them.
The hearing lasted 90 minutes, though Lichtenstein said he was prepared to be there as long as necessary. But the judge came to his room during the meeting and told him the conference was over.
He found out more after getting a routine report of the event’s minutes.
The minutes state: “Defendant John Bonaventura unilaterally terminated the settlement conference by leaving the courthouse without permission.”
That doesn’t sit well with Lichtenstein, who is representing the former officers with attorney T. Louis Palazzo.
“We all spent a lot of time preparing for this in good faith hoping that we could resolve this matter,” he said.
He said, “We were hopeful that the judge could do his magic and get everyone on the same page, but he didn’t have that opportunity.”
Pool and Bonaventura vigorously dispute the court record of the proceedings.
“That’s totally not what happened,” Pool said.
In an email to the Review-Journal, Bonaventura said: “A review of the minutes shows they are inaccurate. We met with Magistrate Judge Cam (Ferenbach) who terminated the conference and gave his contact telephone number to attorney Robert Pool if there was a change in circumstances. Mr. Pool advises we will be filing a motion to correct the inaccuracies.”
It wasn’t clear whether Bonaventura and his attorney will face sanctions as a result of their behavior.
Ferenbach couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
The case at hand on Tuesday has plenty of twists and turns of its own. Daniel Palazzo, a former captain in the constable’s office, and Timothy Beckett, a former lieutenant, allege they were fired after they refused to lie at the behest of Bonaventura.
After a reality television show surfaced that showed deputies using foul language, Bonaventura wanted them to lie at a public meeting and tell county commissioners he was ill and that the clip was a training video, according to their allegations.
After negotiations, the constable’s insurance company, Travelers Property Casualty Company of America, offered to settle with the pair for between $275,000 and $425,000, depending on whether the constable retracts defamatory statements made about them.
But Bonaventura didn’t want to settle, and sent the insurance company a letter of withdrawal. As a result, the insurance company filed a lawsuit seeking a ruling that it is no longer responsible for the case. The two former officers have filed a motion seeking a ruling to enforce the settlement.
The case is pending.
“If the settlement goes forward they lose nothing so their motivation is unfathomable other than to just create problems where none exist,” Lichtenstein said.
“The case isn’t worth settling,” he said. “It sets a bad precedent. You don’t give somebody money when they have absolutely no case whatsoever.”
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.