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Judge rejects state AG’s plea to oust Esmeralda sheriff

A judge Tuesday denied a motion by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to have Esmeralda County Sheriff Nicholas Dondero removed from office.

District Judge Kimberly Wanker, presiding in the Esmeralda’s county seat of Goldfield, turned down a motion for summary judgment filed by state Deputy Solicitor General Kiel Ireland, who argued Dondero is legally disqualified for office because of a 2007 domestic violence conviction and his failure to be certified as a peace officer, Dondero’s lawyer Augustus Claus said.

Wanker also denied the defense’s motion to have the attorney general’s case against Dondero dismissed but did so without prejudice, meaning that the defense could file the motion again, Claus said.

The judge gave Dondero’s defense 20 days to file an answer to the state’s complaint against the sheriff and then the civil case would enter the discovery phase, although no future hearing date was set, Claus said.

“He’s pleased with the judge’s ruling and that the judge seemed to understand the unfairness of this, from his perspective,” Claus said of Dondero, who attended the hearing in the Goldfield courthouse.

Wanker is “not removing him from office,” Claus said. “She indicated he should remain in office with full power.”

The ruling blocked, for now, the state’s intention to have the sheriff forfeit his position immediately, he said.

Ireland, who is based in Carson City, could not be reached by phone after the approximately 90-minute afternoon hearing in Goldfield, about 180 miles north of Las Vegas.

Claus said that during the proceeding Wanker questioned the fact that the Nevada Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, which certifies the state’s peace officers, waited for months and did not certify Dondero in 2023 before a new law, Senate Bill 225, took effect as of last Oct. 1.

The law prohibits those with domestic violence convictions from being certified as peace officers whether the conviction was sealed and legally dismissed by a judge or not, but it was passed after Dondero became sheriff, according to Claus.

Dondero’s misdemeanor conviction, in a case where he pleaded no contest to assaulting the mother of his son, had been sealed by a judge prior to his run for sheriff in 2022, he said.

Carl Brownfield, president of the Esmeralda County School District Board of Trustees and general manager of Goldfield-based radio station KGFN 89.1, attended the hearing and said the courtroom was standing room only with supporters of Dondero.

Those on Dondero’s side objected to the state’s attempt to oust the duly-elected sheriff on the “technicality” of his sealed conviction from a case more than 15 years old.

“The people here are feisty,” Brownfield said. “They absolutely do not want others messing with their county.”

The attorney general’s lawyers at the session “had a case but they did not have it sewed up,” Brownfield opined, adding that he thought the judge didn’t like that they could not tell her exactly when Dondero had the case sealed.

Dondero, who was not available for comment, was elected sheriff of Esmeralda County, Nevada’s least populated county, in November 2022 and took office in January 2023.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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