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Las Vegas judge declines to rule on ‘money hungry’ court practices

A Las Vegas Municipal Court judge Wednesday declined to rule on the constitutionality of courtroom and cash collection practices long bemoaned as “€œmoney hungry”€ by court critics.

Judge Martin Hastings issued a narrow ruling reaffirming his right to overrule decisions handed down by unelected, City Council-appointed traffic commissioners who handle much of the court’€™s caseload.

He also granted a so-called Gilbert hearing to Eric Siegler, a Las Vegas paralegal who accused a traffic commissioner of trying to force him to pay down $450 in fines before his case could be heard by an elected judge. That hearing to determine Siegler’€™s ability to pay fines owed to the court is scheduled for Aug. 12.

But Hastings stopped well short of weighing in on the meatier legal issues raised in a 14-page legal challenge filed on Siegler’€™s behalf last month.

That motion, drafted by defense attorney Craig Mueller, accused the court of levying unconstitutional fines and extracting hefty fees from poor defendants. It also alleged the court denied constitutional due process rights to Siegler, who faced a pair of warrants tied to fix-it tickets he received in 2014.

City employees, state lawmakers, former judges and defendants have spent months blasting Hastings and other officials over the court’€™s approach to misdemeanor warrants. Critics say the court prioritizes cash above public safety and pressures marshals to take a credit card payment in lieu of locking up even violent offenders.

Some of those same critics also have lambasted the court for acting as a “€œcollection agency”€ determined to preserve its right to threaten defendants with arrest for the most minor of offenses ’€” a practice they contend is nothing short of “€œextortion.”

Hastings, speaking toward the end of a 25-minute hearing on Siegler’€™s motion, conceded “€œthere could be some issues here that need to be dealt with,”€ but said he wouldn’€™t rule on them since they weren’€™t filed in connection with Siegler’€™s original traffic ticket cases.

He did not immediately return requests for further comment on the ruling.

Mueller said he doesn’€™t plan to pursue the matter further —€” yet.

“We won with a small ‘w,’ not with a big one,” he said of Siegler’€™s case.

Mueller said he suspects it won’t be long before he finds another defendant with a case that could be a big win.

“€œThey’€™re in the office two or three times a week,”€ he said. “€œI’€™m sure I can find another one.”

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Follow him: @JamesDeHaven.

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