By Matt Ward
Nye County is once again facing the prospect of financing the legal defense of a former district attorney and an ex-prosecutor after a sheriff’s detective refiled a federal civil rights lawsuit last month.
Det. David Boruchowitz filed a similar lawsuit last year but rescinded it for unknown reasons. His attorney, Reno lawyer Marc Picker, said at the time that the case might be refiled.
According to records filed at the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, Boruchowitz refiled his lawsuit on April 10, again naming as defendants former District Attorney Bob Beckett, former prosecutor Bob Bettinger as well as Nye County. A fourth defendant, Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Conrad Claus, was conspicuously left out of the new lawsuit, though “John Does 1 through 15″ could include other defendants.
Boruchowitz is seeking no less than $3 million and possibly much more in damages related to his 2010 arrest during the height of an ugly imbroglio between the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.
He declined to comment about the case on Wednesday. A message was left with his attorney, who did not respond by press time.
District Attorney Brian Kunzi said he was aware of the lawsuit and confirmed that the county would be forced to defend Beckett and Bettinger because they are being sued in their official capacities.
Kunzi declined to comment further.
Beckett said he is not just prepared to defend himself, he is planning a countersuit against the detective and other unnamed county officials.
“I knew earlier this year; I was told he intended to refile the lawsuit,” the former district attorney said. “What we’re intending to do is file a counterclaim against Detective Boruchowitz and others. I’m not, at this point, going to divulge who the others are.”
Beckett said the problem is that defending himself against the detective’s claims will likely cost the county considerable funds above simply defending him.
In the meantime, Boruchowitz has an even higher profile inside the sheriff’s department than he did the first time he filed his lawsuit — this time he’s president of the Nye County Law Enforcement Association, which represents deputies during salary and grievance negotiations with the county.
The complaint filed in federal court reads like a list of not-so-greatest hits from two years ago — listed along with the litany of grievances and accusations of negligence are some of the sheriff’s office’s most controversial entanglements, including the arrest of former sheriff’s candidate Ted Holmes, an investigation involving the daughter of a second sheriff’s candidate, the death of police officer Ian Deutch, the investigation of Beckett’s bad check program and other not-so fond memories.
According to the complaint, the trouble began on March 12, 2010, when the detective began investigating Holmes, who was accused of impersonating a police officer. This was in the midst of Holmes running to unseat the detective’s boss, DeMeo. The complaint also mentions the April 2010 run-in between the detective and a family member of sheriff’s candidate former Nevada Highway Patrol officer Scott Cobel. A late night party involving teenagers was busted up, with the detective playing a lead role.
Both incidents were later used by Beckett as justification for filing criminal charges against the detective.
It was only a few days after the incident involving Cobel’s daughter that a county auditor and now county Manager Pam Webster alerted police to missing funds in the DA’s bad check program, according to the detective’s lawsuit.
By May, Beckett was arrested and released and charges against Boruchowitz were in the works, the lawsuit states. Beckett hired Claus as a special prosecutor. The detective was arrested on May 21. Bettinger filed two new complaints against the officer on May 24.
“Defendants, and each of them, acted recklessly or were grossly negligent in performing their official duties,” the lawsuit repeatedly states.
At one point in June 2010, Beckett testified in open court that the detective perjured himself in a murder case. A month later, a judge ruled that the accusation was unfounded.
On Oct. 8, 2010, charges against the detective were dismissed by special prosecutor Peter Christianson, who was appointed to replace Claus.
On Oct. 15, 2010, Beckett pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a public official. Beckett stepped down after Kunzi won election to office in November. He most recently was convicted of driving under the influence after a short trial in Pahrump Justice Court that concluded just days before Boruchowitz refiled his complaint. It’s unclear whether the refiling of the civil rights suit and the disposition of Beckett’s DUI case is in any way connected.
A lawyer who often represents Nye County in civil cases, Tom Beko, was not available for comment. From past interviews, it is generally known that the county pays a $50,000 deductible each time it is sued. That money goes into POOL PACT, a pool of legal fees collected from rural counties that acts as an insurance pool against litigation costs.
Beckett said costs will likely increase with his counterclaim because he plans to name additional county employees.
“The problem is that if I file a counterclaim the county is going to have to pay a $50,000 deductible for each party we name in the counterclaim. That’s probably going to get kind of expensive. But if the detective wants to bring this forward, we have to do what we have to do,” he said.
A phone call to Bettinger seeking comment was not returned by press time.
The detective’s civil rights complaint seeks at least $3 million — $1 million in general damages, $1 million in punitive damages and $1 million in specific damages. It does not specify if these damages are being sought from each defendant. The suit makes nine claims for relief.