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Judge allows commission hearing on constable’s office to proceed

A last-ditch effort to stave off a vote to abolish the Las Vegas Township constable’s office failed Monday.

Judge Rob Bare told Constable John Bonaventura’s lawyer that the embattled constable should attend the Clark County Commission meeting today and “fully participate” in the public hearing.

“Whether the constable likes this or not, it’s not about the individual. It’s about what’s best for the public,” Bare said.

Last week, Bonaventura asked the court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the commission from hearing an agenda item that could abolish his office.

Bare denied the request after a two-hour hearing.

Bonaventura did not attend the hearing at the Regional Justice Center. His lawyer Kenneth Frizzell said Bonaventura was performing his constable duties.

After the hearing, Frizzell said he believed there were grounds to support the restraining order.

He argued the commission was attempting to subvert the will of voters by eliminating only one of the 11 constable offices in Clark County.

At least some commissioners have “a beef with the person and not with the office,” Frizzell said. “It’s repulsive. That’s a slap in the face of every Clark County voter.”

Frizzell said that at least two commissioners, Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins, have publicly expressed displeasure with Bonaventura. Collins and others have said they had not made up their mind on the issue.

The office has drawn plenty of attention since Bonaventura’s 2010 election.

It has been plagued by a variety of high-profile episodes including a criticized venture into reality television, hiring deputies with questionable backgrounds, a deputy failing to see a body in a residence, and a clash about payments to attorneys for a lawsuit against other constable’s offices.

County officials have recently said the constable’s office is on track to lose nearly $2 million during the first 2½ years of Bonaventura’s leadership. The losses stem from a significant decline in revenues, which have fallen by roughly a third since he was elected in 2010.

If the trend continues, a $7 million surplus built by Bonaventura’s predecessor could be gone by the end of his four-year term.

Frizzell said that a 2012 audit of the office, which has a team of 42 deputies who handle evictions and serve legal paper­work, showed it was efficient.

He said he had evidence that the county took $2 million from that surplus to pay for another county department, but he did not have the email proving it with him.

During the hearing, Frizzell argued the state law allowing the commission to abolish the constable’s office was unconstitutional.

However, Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Barker, who represented the county, said the restraining order was inappropriate because Bonaventura will have two years to fight in court if the commission votes to abolish the office.

Bare ruled the state law was constitutional.

The judge agreed with Frizzell that the agenda item was poorly worded and it suggested that the commission had already found “an overlap of duties and functions” of the constable’s office.

“There is a very real probability that this is a popularity issue, not a necessity of services issue,” Frizzell said.

The county declined comment on Bare’s ruling late Monday.

Giunchigliani, who is pushing for abolishing the office, has said it’s crucial the public is well-served with better oversight, improved training and transparent hiring practices.

Her proposal doesn’t outline who would take over the constable’s duties if the office is abolished or how it would be done.

Bare set a briefing schedule and a hearing for April 30 should the office be abolished, allowing Bonaventura to challenge the commission’s decision.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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