The Las Vegas constable’s office is facing a possible a class-action lawsuit over its collection of a $100 fee it hands down when citing new residents for not having Nevada license plates.
Attorney Jeffrey Barr filed court papers Monday seeking to add more than 14,000 people as plaintiffs in the federal suit he filed against the constable’s office on behalf of a former Utah woman, Nicole McMillen.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon must give Barr permission to file the broader amended lawsuit, which also seeks to add Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura as a defendant. The new suit also would look to identify and add every deputy constable who has collected the $100 fee.
Barr said he is asking for an expedited order from Gordon on his request because the constable’s office, as a result of a vote of the Clark County Commission, is to disband at the end of the year.
“If Ms. McMillen is denied leave to amend, she and other similarly situated citizens will suffer the injustice of not being permitted to pursue and recover upon claims and allegations that arise under protections guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution,” Barr wrote.
Dean Lauer, the constable’s chief deputy, said Monday he couldn’t comment on the move for a class-action suit until he has a chance to discuss it with the office’s legal counsel, Robert Pool.
The constable’s office late last week temporarily suspended enforcement of a state law requiring new residents to obtain Nevada plates after 30 days, after Gordon issued a preliminary injunction barring the office from forcing McMillen to pay the $100 fee.
McMillen’s lawsuit accused the constable’s office of violating her constitutional rights and shaking her down for the $100.
The office has defended the practice, arguing it was authorized by a 2009 state law aimed at cracking down on new residents who don’t register their cars.
But the amended suit seeks an order from Gordon declaring the collection process unconstitutional and prohibiting the constable’s office from obtaining the fee.
Gordon said last week he was “troubled” that there is no opportunity in state court for McMillen to challenge the collection process, and that violates her constitutional due process rights.
After McMillen was cited in March at the upscale Turnberry Towers, she obtained Nevada license plates, but refused to pay the constable’s office the $100 and now faces a misdemeanor charge in Justice Court over it.
On Monday, Barr said he has gotten “scores” of calls and emails from people complaining about being mistreated by the constable’s office. Some have said they were threatened with criminal prosecution if they didn’t pay the $100.
Lauer said he was waiting for an opinion from Pool on how the office should proceed with enforcement of the license plate law.
The office has four deputies who have been writing misdemeanor registration citations, Lauer said. The deputies work on a commission and get $65 of the $100 for each citation they write.
Former District Attorney David Roger has suggested that giving the deputies a cash incentive to enforce the law creates an appearance of impropriety.
According to Lauer, a total of 14,653 citations were issued between January 2011 and April of this year, and the $100 fee was collected on 12,113, bringing in $1.2 million to the constable’s office.
It is unclear who would have to pay back the cash if a class-action suit prevailed, but Barr said it is possible that individual deputies could bear some of the responsibility.
If the suit were to be resolved after the constable’s office is shut down, the public entity that assumes the office’s assets, likely Clark County, would have to pay the plaintiffs, Barr said.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.