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EDITORIAL: County commissioner skates on deleted texts

Politicians would act much differently if they had to personally pay for their wrongdoings. Consider Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones.

There’s an ongoing legal battle between Clark County and Gypsum Resources, which is owned by developer Jim Rhodes. County officials spent years blocking the company’s residential development plans for land it owns near Red Rock Canyon. Mr. Jones has been one of the most high-profile and active opponents of that proposal, dating back to his time in the Legislature a decade ago.

During testimony in the lawsuit last month, Mr. Jones answered questions before District Judge Joanna Kishner. The company claims that, in 2018, Mr. Jones successfully pursued a quid pro quo with then-County Commission chair Steve Sisolak. Mr. Sisolak was involved in a close gubernatorial contest. Allegedly, Mr. Jones would provide pivotal support from environmentalists if Mr. Sisolak opposed the company’s development plans.

Text messages from the time might provide useful evidence to determine whether or not the developer’s allegations are true. But Mr. Jones deleted those messages shortly after the commission quashed the project. At last month’s hearing, a Gypsum lawyer asked Mr. Jones why he didn’t try to recover his texts. Was it because he “knew they were gone on purpose?”

“I don’t recall, and I have no other explanation,” Mr. Jones said.

Days later, Judge Kishner ruled that Clark County officials, including Mr. Jones, had intentionally deleted text messages about the project. This is the second time that a judge has reached such a conclusion. In April 2023, a federal magistrate ruled that “the totality of the evidence” showed Mr. Jones had purposely deleted the texts and then been “not truthful” about his actions.

These is inexcusable, but it gets worse. Mr. Jones is a lawyer. He should know the importance of preserving what could become vital evidence. Yet he acted to kill the communications anyway.

His arrogance could prove costly. Gypsum is suing the county for violating its property rights. The company’s complaint sought damages topping $2 billion. A jury trial is likely to begin this summer. And now the judge has found that county officials willfully destroyed evidence.

The county shouldn’t expect the Nevada Supreme Court to save it. The justices recently ruled on a similar dispute involving the city of Las Vegas overstepping its regulatory authority by stopping a proposed development at the old Badlands golf course.

“When a governmental agency acts in a manner that removes all the economic value from privately owned land, just compensation must be paid,” the unanimous court ruled.

The parallels are obvious. County officials should seek a resolution with Mr. Rhodes that limits the damage to taxpayers. But Mr. Jones should also face consequences. Would a non-connected citizen be allowed to walk away after destroying evidence in a civil case? Doubtful.

Mr. Jones resigned as commission vice chair last year, but kept his job. The State Bar opened an investigation into Mr. Jones’s behavior last year. That process is ongoing and may be complete by the end of the year. He faces a possible suspension or disbarment, which would be more than warranted.

Justin Jones is covered in disgrace. What is he doing on the Clark County Commission? If he had any respect for his constituents, he would resign.

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