More unconstitutional rubbish from city

Let’s say you’re planning a little party for this Saturday, either for Cinco de Mayo, Derby Day or to watch this year’s megafight. And let’s say someone gets a little loud cheering for Mexico or Circular Quay or Oscar De La Hoya.

The city of Las Vegas just may consider that “unruly” and haul you off to jail.

That’s the gist of a bill to be considered this afternoon by the Las Vegas City Council’s Recommending Committee.

The same minds who brought us the unconstitutional ordinance banning the gathering of 25 people without a permit are back with a new affront to civil liberties. This one is Bill 2007-14, which “prohibits unruly gatherings and establishes regulations and penalties with respect thereto.”

Well, with due respect to bill sponsors Gary Reese and Lois Tarkanian, this is just another end run around the Constitution.

The ordinance defines “unruly gathering” as any gathering of two or more people on any private property that “causes a disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of private or public property by any person.” So if your neighbors are fighting, if your kids are out front practicing to be the next Kobe Bryant or if you’re just getting a little excited about something on TV, the city can slap you with a fine.

The bill doesn’t just define “unruly” — it gives some examples of disturbances “unruly” gatherings create. There’s excessive noise or traffic, the obstruction of streets by crowds and drinking in public. Fighting, underage drinking, vandalism, assault and battery also would be prohibited at unruly gatherings, as if that behavior isn’t illegal already.

Maybe the city should make it a crime to steal a car from an unruly gathering. In theory, that could give Las Vegas police the weapon they need to combat the city’s dubious distinction as the nation’s worst for auto theft.

The same police department that can’t seem to get a handle on vanishing cars is now supposed to drive around neighborhoods with devices to measure decibel levels. Or worse, maybe the cop is just supposed to make a qualified determination about when the noise becomes excessive enough to constitute an unruly gathering.

Has the city attorney’s office never heard of disturbing the peace?

The ordinance spells out a $150 fine for a first offense, although it also specifies a cop can “abate” the unruliness by arresting the unruly one.

Let’s say you have the unfortunate distinction of getting a ticket. The city must then post a notice that states an unruly gathering occurred at your home and that anyone who was there, even a baby sleeping upstairs, might be subject to additional liability.

Under the ordinance, if you have the misfortune of being “unruly” twice in a 180-day period, you’d be personally liable to cover all of the expenses incurred by the cops or the city.

This city of Las Vegas, under the continued advice of City Attorney Brad Jerbic, just can’t seem to grasp the First Amendment. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a previous city ordinance that banned the distribution of hand bills on the Fremont Street Experience. A similar county measure, applying to the Strip, has also been rejected by the courts.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones last year issued an injunction against another city ordinance that banned the feeding of homeless people and prohibited a gathering of 25 people without a permit.

Back then, Jerbic told The Associated Press that “tweaking” the ordinance might be enough to help it pass judicial review. The city always looks at a problem and tries to figure out the best way around the Constitution. When Jerbic thinks about tweaking something, it’s usually an attempt to get around some pesky civil liberty problem.

But once again a city ordinance fails to pass constitutional muster in a big way. This latest proposal would essentially give law enforcement the ability to determine whether a party in Peccole Ranch is just a little noise or whether a gathering in Bonanza Village is unruly.

The city ordinance would rely on selective enforcement and thus again trample the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Not only is the ordinance unconstitutional on its face, it would also lead to more spats between neighbors. If you already don’t like someone on your block, this gives you a real weapon for revenge.

“Hello, 3-1-1? Yeah, my neighbor is holding an unruly gathering.”

It would be comical if it wasn’t such a serious affront to your rights. But given the City Council’s track record, it’s clear this ordinance could easily pass.

And then the city will spend thousands more of your tax dollars defending the indefensible in court. And when a court tosses the ordinance, the language will be tweaked to start the process again.

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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