Las Vegas constable deputizes lawyer to cover bills refused by County Commission


Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura might have found a novel way to cover lawyer's bills that Clark County won't pay: Give the guy a badge.

The controversial constable this month made lawyers Spencer Judd and Robert Pool deputies, with law enforcement powers, apparently sidestepping the authority of county managers and commissioners.

There might not be anything county officials can do about it, however.

When Bonaventura sued his counterparts in Laughlin and Henderson for encroaching on his territory this year, he did it without the approval of county commissioners. County officials refused to pay the lawsuit's costs, and in August commissioners also refused to pay for a $2,000 bond associated with the case.

That left Bonaventura footing the bill for Judd's legal work.

Pool has also done legal work for the office in the past, constable spokesman Lou Toomin said.

What that work was and how Pool came to be a deputy is unclear. He didn't respond to a call for comment.

When reached Wednesday, Judd declined to discuss specifics about his interest in becoming an employee of a client.

"I'm not even going to comment on that," Judd said.

Toomin said that while Pool is now going through Bonaventura's law enforcement academy, both he and Judd will work as lawyers for the office.

Judd might be working there just so he can be paid for the previous work, Toomin said.

"There's nothing that says we can't do that," Toomin said.

He might be right.

Commissioners don't have oversight of Bonaventura's payroll because the constable is elected. That is a statutory loophole that goes against the commissioners' wishes, County Manager Don Burnette said Wednesday.

"It's a clear circumvention of the board's intent on this issue," Burnette said.

But Burnette said he didn't know what, if anything, the county can do about it.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak echoed those comments.

"He has a lot of discretion over the money over there," he said. "It's between him and the voters, the constituents of Clark County."

Bonaventura's two years in office have spawned controversies, including a roundly criticized foray into reality television, allegations of sexual harassment, jurisdictional disputes and hiring of deputies with questionable histories.

Concern about Bonaventura's office has grown to the point that his peers openly call him unprofessional and a state lawmaker is drafting legislation that would curtail the power and independence of all 14 Nevada constables.

"This is the issue of the week. It's one on top of another," Sisolak said. "(Bonaventura) just can't help himself. He's a magnet for problems."

This month, his office was sued by an insurance company in connection with a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by two former deputies.

But hiring lawyers as deputies is new territory, a move that a legal ethics expert called "questionable."

Constable deputies are paid for work that includes serving legal papers for law firms and the courts and to evict tenants for landlords, among other duties. Deputies, who are not county employees, are paid with service fees.

Toomin said they wouldn't have to do that kind of work - they could just be working as lawyers.

"Maybe he'll be here working off those fees, I don't know," Toomin said.

Phil Pattee, assistant bar counsel for the State Bar of Nevada, said many attorneys have secondary employment, but Judd and Pool might face ethical issues if they're not really working as constable deputies.

"On it's face, it doesn't sound like (a conflict). It sounds like they're working the system pretty good," Pattee said. "If it's a fake hire, and this guy isn't doing anything except lawyering and getting a paycheck, that could be a problem."

Judd said he doesn't see any ethical issues with his client-attorney connection with the constable's office also becoming an employer-employee relationship.

Toomin noted that the Metropolitan Police Department has officers who are also lawyers. But those officers work as cops, not lawyers. The department's top lawyer is a civilian.

Martin Dean Dupalo, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, a public watchdog group, said the "questionable move" in deputizing Judd will raise issues with the public.

"How better a way to (pay Judd) than to bring him into the fold and pay him under a different category on your balance sheet," Dupalo said. "I think it raises questions, and it should with the public."

Dupalo said the hire will further hurt the public's perception of the constable office.

"When the public sees this, the confidence level is so diminished as it is, it's just going to take them down a notch in the public's view," Dupalo said.

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 383-0440. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 405-9789.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.