HOA abuse

One corruption scandal always seems to segue into another in Southern Nevada, where abuses of trust and public office are as common as foreclosed homes.

The latest embarrassment to the community: the federal government’s 2½-year fraud investigation into valley homeowner associations. The Review-Journal’s Jeff German reported Sunday that the Justice Department has identified 75 to 100 co-conspirators including lawyers, judges and former police officers, and that plea deals are being finalized this week for some of them to shore up the prosecution of two-dozen high-level targets.

The inquiry surrounds a scheme to place conspirators on the boards of local homeowner associations through rigged elections, then have those conspirators vote to initiate construction defect lawsuits against builders. The legal work and resulting repairs then would be farmed out to lawyers and companies in on the plot.

The conspiracy was wide-ranging enough before Washington-based prosecutors took over the case from Nevada’s U.S. attorney’s office in response to suspected leaks to suspects. Local prosecutors and other officials are now the subject of a separate Justice Department criminal investigation, sources told Mr. German.

It’s not surprising that such a cabal was concocted around construction defect claims, a legal specialty that’s long been ripe for abuse. Using a handful of legitimate cases as a selling point, aggressive attorneys persuade homeowners with routine, easily fixable repairs that their problems result from developer greed and corner-cutting. Such litigation tied up entire District Court departments for years during the valley’s construction boom.

The entire Justice Department case strikes at the heart of the judicial system’s inability to police frivolous litigation and the lawyers who shake down businesses for quick riches. Every claim has merit; every attorney is righting a wrong. No cases are dismissed. It’s incredibly expensive insanity.

And it’s a prime example of why tort reform advocates seek a loser-pays civil litigation process, so attorneys with flimsy arguments will think long and hard before dedicating their resources to a bogus action, and businesses won’t be compelled to get out their checkbooks to settle every claim.

We’ve all paid handsomely for this alleged abuse and others like it through increased burdens on investigators, prosecutors, courts and businesses. At some point it has to stop.

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