County Commission to take up constable pay dispute

Clark County officials are refusing to pay for two lawyers recently deputized by Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura, prompting commissioners to address the issue at next week’s meeting.

Central to the issue is whether the Clark County Commission has oversight over the controversial constable’s employees.

Bonaventura last month made lawyers Spencer Judd and Robert Pool deputies with law enforcement powers, apparently in an attempt to pay them for work that wasn’t approved by county officials. Commissioners earlier this year rejected his request to pay for them.

Making them deputies was a creative way around the commission’s authority, and the county comptroller in late November approved Bonaventura’s claim of $4,300 in wages for the two lawyers.

But when the Review-Journal published a story that the lawyers had been made deputies – and that they might not be serving paperwork and evictions like other deputies – the comptroller took notice, said George Stevens, the county’s chief financial officer.

When Bonaventura filed a second claim, for $2,800 for Judd and $2,500 for Pool, Comptroller Jessica Colvin rejected it and referred the issue to commissioners to discuss at their Tuesday meeting.

The constable didn’t provide details about the scope of their work.

"It’s not clear to us what they’re (the lawyers) doing in the office and whether they’re entitled to be paid as deputies," Stevens said Wednesday.

The situation is a gray area for the county.

Bonaventura, an elected official, operates an office that is funded through service fees, not taxpayer funds. While his expenses must be approved by county officials, he largely has the right to hire and fire anyone he chooses.

After Colvin refused to pay for the lawyers, Bonaventura sent her an email stating that she overstepped her bounds.

"I do hereby put you on notice to cease to usurp my statutory authority immediately," he wrote.

Bonaventura told her he was taking back the claim and didn’t want the issue to go to commissioners.

"You do not have my authorization or permission to place this canceled claim on the agenda," Bonaventura wrote. "Thank you for your kindness and understanding, now please withdraw this agenda item immediately."

The item wasn’t withdrawn.

Requests to the office for comment were returned by Constable Deputy Chief Dean Lauer, who said that the issue was placed on next week’s agenda "in error," and that the issue had been resolved.

Lauer said he didn’t know anything about the case or its resolution.

Calls to Bonaventura and spokesman Lou Toomin were not returned.

If Bonaventura believes the matter has been dropped, he is mistaken.

"I wouldn’t say this matter has been resolved at all," County Manager Don Burnette said. "We’re left with this fundamental difference as to what is the authority of the board."

Bonaventura is trying to pay Judd for work on a lawsuit filed this year against the constable’s counterparts in Laughlin and Henderson for encroaching on his territory.

It’s unclear whether Pool also helped with the case, which was filed without the approval of 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.

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

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.

A state lawmaker is drafting legislation that would curtail the power and independence of all 14 Nevada constables.

Burnette said Colvin did the right thing by not approving the payments and for referring the issue to commissioners.

"I think we need to have a public conversation on this," he said.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781.

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