Las Vegas constable’s office sued in deputy terminations

The Las Vegas Township constable’s office is being sued by an insurance company in connection with a wrongful termination lawsuit involving two former deputies.

In a federal lawsuit filed Nov. 8, Travelers Property Casualty Company of America, which insures the constable’s office, asks to guarantee that it has no liability to pay ex-deputies Dan Palazzo and Mike Beckett should they be successful in a case against their former employer, Constable John Bonaventura.

Bonaventura fired the insurance company from that particular case, citing “irreconcilable differences,” because Travelers encouraged the constable to settle with the two former deputies, according to court documents.

“There are no federal implications with regards to why they were let go,” said Lou Toomin, constable spokesman. “There is no case. What are they suing us for? They weren’t wrongfully terminated.”

Bonaventura contends the two deputies were not fired. He said he did not renew their contracts when they expired for reasons unrelated to the allegations made in their lawsuit, which he said are false.

Travelers’ lawsuit draws even more attention to the county office and the controversial constable. Concern about Bonaventura’s office has prompted state lawmakers to discuss proposed legislation during the 2013 session that would limit the power and independence of all 14 Nevada constables. But the insurance company’s lawsuit could leave Clark County picking up the pieces, which could include paying a settlement to the two former deputies.

According to the lawsuit, county officials dispute whether the constable has the authority to withdraw the claim.

County spokesman Erik Pappa declined to comment Tuesday about how the county might become involved to resolve the matter, citing pending litigation.

A portion of the constable insurance policy covers litigation matters and employment-related liability issues.

In court records filed earlier this year, Palazzo and Beckett said they lost their jobs for refusing to lie to county commissioners about a failed reality TV pilot showing a behind-the-scenes look at the law enforcement office. Commissioners slammed the profanity-laced video at a public meeting. Bonaventura said that he didn’t support the project and that proposed show was never made.

Bonaventura wrote an Oct. 11 letter to Travelers that, “Effective immediately, your representation in this particular case is hereby terminated, and you are no longer to engage in this case unless we enter a subsequent agreement.”

In an email to Travelers the same day, Bonaventura asked the parties to keep quiet about the change until the office retains new counsel in the matter.

But the insurance company submitted Bonaventura’s correspondence as exhibits in the Palazzo and Beckett employment case to the courts, making it public record.

Two days before the insurance company filed the lawsuit against Bonaventura, Travelers sent a letter acknowledging the deal was off because the constable felt the claims lacked merit, that settling the lawsuit would only encourage future lawsuits by the two deputies or others, and that the settlement would provide funding for one or both of the ex-deputies to run for the constable job in the future.

“Travelers … continues to believe that this is a case of liability and that it would be in the best interest of you and the constable’s office for the suit to be resolved,” the letter said.

The letter lays out details of a recent settlement conference, in which Palazzo would be paid $160,050 and Beckett $114,950. The agreement also would have included a confidentiality agreement for all parties involved, purging certain documents from their employment files, and an agreement that neither would try to get their jobs back while Bonaventura was in office, among other demands. Other settlement figures also were discussed.

“We had no intention of discussing a settlement and wanted to go to trial,” Toomin said. “All of that talk came after the settlement conference. I don’t agree with (the insurance company lawsuit). The constable doesn’t agree with it. The office doesn’t agree with it. We think they’re out of line.”

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@review or 383-0440.

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