Las Vegas Sun

March 23, 2019

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Constable’s office under fire during ethics hearing

Las Vegas Constable Bob Nolen and his office came under blistering assault during a marathon state Ethics Commission session that was to continue this afternoon.

Meeting Thursday at McCarran International Airport, the commission was supposed to consider allegations that Nolen misused his office for political purposes, mistreated employees and attended a topless cabaret during working hours.

But the tedious 11-hour hearing that frequently spun out of control painted a far murkier portrait of an office some critics suggest ought to be abolished. The office collects money by serving court documents such as eviction notices and subpoenas, but it has become bitterly divided by disgruntled employees.

A string of current and former deputy constables and office workers berated Nolen under questioning by former deputy J. David Burress, who filed the ethics complaint. Many of the allegations were denied by Nolen through his attorneys.

Burress charged he was fired last year by Nolen because he became president of the Las Vegas Constables Association, formed to improve their working conditions.

"We all valued our jobs and all looked the other way for three years with hopes things would change, but they haven't," Burress testified. "We have seen him (Nolen) surround himself with friends while he has dismissed those of us who have brought complaints."

Nolen attorney William Kephart responded that Nolen has tried to reform an office that saw prior Constable Don Charleboix brought down by scandal. Charleboix resigned amid charges of selling constable badges for cash, and pleaded guilty to two gross misdemeanors.

A former Las Vegas city councilman, Nolen was appointed by the Clark County Commission to replace Charleboix in 1993, and was elected last year to continue in office.

Kephart conceded that Nolen's decision to ban deputies from carrying firearms on duty and revise the way they're reimbursed for mileage caused much of the hostility toward the constable.

"That (mileage change) caused some problems with some of the deputies because it cut some of their pay by $10,000," Kephart said.

He added that the deputies didn't like the gun policy, but he argued that they weren't peace officers because they don't have the authority to make arrests.

"They like to carry guns," Kephart said. "They're gun-toting happy."

But North Las Vegas Township Constable Lou Tabat said he requires his deputies to carry guns for their own protection.

"People pull guns, knives and sic dogs on you," Tabat said. "That (gun) is the only alternative you have left."

Among the allegations raised Thursday:

* Nolen campaigned on duty for unsuccessful 1994 Clark County sheriff's candidate Ralph Lamb and for Las Vegas City Councilman Gary Reese during office hours. The constable was accused of distributing Lamb T-shirts to employees, requesting they sell raffle tickets for the candidate, and spending considerable time at Lamb headquarters where his wife was employed as an aide.

The constable's attorneys denied that he worked on campaigns while on duty, and also suggested that he was at Lamb headquarters simply to visit his wife. But current and former deputies said they frequently had to go to Lamb's campaign office to discuss business with Nolen.

* Nolen rarely spends time in the constable's office, and was seen on occasion during working hours drinking alcohol in local taverns. Deputy constable Rick Yohner testified that he, Nolen and chief deputy Doug Tharp shared alcoholic beverages at the Olympic Gardens topless cabaret during working hours last July 11.

Nolen didn't respond to the cabaret allegation, but said he spent most of his time outside the office meeting with constituents such as landlords. That drew a sharp retort from commission Chairwoman Mary Boetsch, one of many testy exchanges she had with Nolen and other witnesses.

"Is there anything in the job description that says you have to hold their hands and listen to their problems so you get re-elected?" Boetsch queried.

The constable then conceded he also met with individuals who had complaints unrelated to his office, such as a man who wanted the city to remove shopping carts from his property.