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Federal judge intervenes in Hof dispute with Nye County

Just days before the 2018 primary election the tension between Nye County and Nevada Assembly District 36 candidate Dennis Hof reached a fever pitch and resulted in the county being issued a temporary restraining order by a federal judge.

Additionally, Hof has now filed another lawsuit against the county, alleging that due process was not followed and he was deprived of his right to exercise free speech in the critical moments leading up to the primary.

As detailed in the factual findings listed in the federal order, on June 7 Nye County District Attorney Angela Bello called Hof to notify him that one of his signs was in conflict with Nye County Code Title 17, as a follow-up to a previous notice issued on May 25.

The following afternoon, Bello spoke with Hof’s legal counsel, explaining that mobile signs were not allowed in the county and that a recently approved amendment to title 17 specifically addressed political signs.

However, as Hof has many signs, there was apparently confusion regarding which signs were being referenced. Hof asserted that he did not expect his sign to be confiscated, which is why he took no action prior to the close of business that Friday.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. on June 8, Nye County staff went out to Hof’s property on Homestead Road to remove the political sign in question. By this time the courts had closed for the weekend but that did not stop Hof from reacting. He was able to contact federal judge Richard Boulware II, who apparently felt the matter warranted immediate attention.

The sign that was towed was a small billboard placed on a trailer bed that sits below a large billboard owned by Hof. The large billboard features a pro-Hof ad on one side and an ad against his opponent, incumbent Assemblyman James Oscarson, on the other. The content of the smaller sign consists of an attack ad against Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, who was running for re-election in the primary as well.

Judge Boulware II convened a special court hearing on June 9 at which Hof’s legal representation was present, as well Bello and Nye County Manager Tim Sutton.

Judge Boulware II determined that due to the lack of a hearing of some sort to address the situation, be it informal or otherwise, as well as the lack of specificity regarding the code violation in the May 25 notice letter, the county, “… procedures used were not constitutionally sufficient.”

Because of the political nature of the sign which the courts found, “could potentially influence prospective voters in the current election cycle,” the court agreed with Hof’s accusation that confiscation of the sign caused him irreparable harm.

Thus, the judge ordered the county to return Hof’s sign to his property by no later than 8 a.m. the next morning and further instructed the county to refrain from removing any of Hof’s other signs without following proper procedure.

Lawsuits

On top of the temporary restraining order forcing the county to return the sign, Hof has filed a First Amendment and 14th Amendment lawsuit against the county. This marks the third lawsuit Hof has filed against the county in less than a year.

The latest lawsuit was filed on June 9, naming Nye County, the Nye County Board of Commissioners,Bello in her official capacity, James Oscarson in his personal and official capacity, Dan Schinhofen in his personal and official capacity, Tim Sutton in his personal and official capacity, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office and Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly in her official capacity.

Hof alleges that Schinhofen, along with Oscarson, demanded county manager Sutton have the sign towed and Sutton subsequently issued that directive. Hof was outraged by the move, calling it a blatant attempt to stymie his rights. The lawsuit claims that not only was the county’s action in removing his sign illegal but that the entire code the county was using as its basis for enforcement was unconstitutional.

Nye County, however, has stated that the action taken was no more than a regular part of code enforcement and Hof was not the only candidate noticed about code violations.

Nye County Public Information Officer Arnold Knightly explained, “The county began enforcing non-conforming signs of all kinds before election season came into full swing. We continued this enforcement as the election cycle began.

Over the last few weeks, we have notified several candidates that their signs were out of compliance. Most have voluntarily removed them. The sign at issue had been cited by code compliance but was not removed in a timely manner and was subsequently towed.”

When reached for comment regarding the situation, Oscarson stated that he did not understand why Hof was dragging him into the quagmire as he declared he had no hand in the matter.

“Neither I, nor my office, have anything to do with local ordinances or the enforcement of local ordinances, so I have no idea why he would involve my name in his most recent endless threats of litigation,” Oscarson responded. “My opponent appears to believe that he can do whatever he wants by threatening people with constant lawsuits. The voters of Assembly District 36 see through the tactics of a bully.”

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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