Nevada Newsmakers

News - June 1, 2022 - by Ray Hagar

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A "soft judiciary" system in Nevada and the Legislature's sweeping criminal reform legislation of 2021 are hampering efforts to fight crime, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Wednesday on Nevada Newsmakers.

Lombardo, the front-running Republican candidate for governor, told host Sam Shad that the Legislature's criminal reform bill, AB 236, raised thresholds for some crimes to be considered a felony, and has "handcuffed the cops in their ability to do the job."

He added that his newly-coined phrase, "soft judiciary," means the court system is "soft on crime."

"I experience it within the police department on a daily basis," Lombardo said. "Individuals we think are bad actors are incarcerated by my police department and the other associated police departments here in Southern Nevada. And then we see them back on the street with a slap on the hand and it is very frustrating for us."

"Law & order" is an important plank in Lombardo's gubernatorial platform. In his Las Vegas Metro Police "State of the Department" speech in February, Lombardo said homicides in 2021 went up 49 percent from 2020, and property crimes increased 11 percent, according to published news reports.

Perhaps more important politically, crime remains a major concern of Nevada residents, noted the State of Safety Report in Nevada of 2022.

"Nevada reports higher daily concern about crime and safety than most of the country," wrote security expert Rebecca Edwards, on behalf of the SafeWise team who compiled the State of Safety report. "In fact, the Silver State is the fourth-most-concerned state in the nation, with six in 10 people worrying about their safety every day. On the flip side, only four in 10 Nevadans feel safe in their state."

The criminal reforms of the Legislature -- designed partially to save taxpayers money, make punishments fit crimes and reduce some prison populations -- has made felony arrests more difficult for police, Lombardo said.

For a felony arrest, "you have to meet this unattainable criteria associated with the individual being charged," he said.

The criminal reforms of the Legislature may prove bad for small businesses, Lombardo added.

"Imagine a cop responding to that type of incident (robbery), with your livelihood, your business, and they say, 'Oh, this is the most we will do (to punish the perpetrator),'" he said.

"And then you see that individual, who stole a significant amount of your inventory, walking down the street with the citation in their hand, knowing that the citation was not going to change behavior, (knowing the offender) may or may not show up to court or even whether a bench warrant will be issued," Lombardo said.

"Or, the soft judiciary could even dismiss it," Lombardo added. "Knowing that, how could you continue to do business? How can you provide a quality of life for your family?"

Yet in the debate over the bill during the legislative session, Lombardo and his police chiefs and sheriffs lobbying team, chose not to oppose the bill in testimony. Instead, they gave neutral testimony.

"Prior to the vote, we stood neutral because our fear was if we went negative and said 'absolutely not,' the majority, both in the Senate and (Assembly) would have overwhelmed us," Lombardo said. "And we would not have gotten anything in that space and the situation that we are currently in would be twice as bad."

Lombardo added that "a lot of things happened behind the scenes" and that his negotiations with Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, helped lawmakers move away from stances Lombardo deemed too far left.

"We were able to bring it a little bit further to the right and have a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve in that bill," he said.

If Lombardo is elected, he will certainly again negotiate with Yeager, who -- speculatively -- could be the Speaker of the Assembly in the 2023 session. Lombardo said he is willing to work with Yeager to find compromise.

"Yes, I can work with him," Lombardo said. "Interestingly, I had a conversation with him recently, specifically to that discussion. We both had a handshake, an agreement that we will work together."

Cash bail

Lombardo also supports the current system of cash bail for those arrested. Opponents of the practice say it forces poorer arrestees to remain in jail while those with financial resources can make bail and get out of jail.

"I think cash bail should remain," Lombardo said. "A lot of jurisdictions have completely got rid of cash bail and the ability for people to post bail. (They say) it is unfair to people of need. They can't have equal justice to an individual with the wherewithal or the money to post bail as a result of their crime.

"But everything can be prevented by not committing the crime," Lombardo said. "And I've said that in the immigration space and everything else.

Shad interjected that the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" is also relevant.

"We all know what goes along with that," Lombardo said. "But quite often, the bail statues or bail standards are set on a specific crime you've been arrested for, to include your history. So that changes the whole dynamics of whether you are able to do it or not.

"I think it is an incentive," Lombardo continued about cash bail. "I think it is an incentive for people to show up in court."

Trump's endorsement, 2020 election

Lombardo has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Lombardo said he would ask Trump to come to Nevada and campaign for him if Lombardo wins the GOP gubernatorial primary.

"Yeah, absolutely," Lombardo said when asked about inviting Trump to Nevada. "I've said it previously. His policies and his financial decisions based on the national budget and foreign policy and everything that goes along with the presidency, I think he did a fantastic job, a sound job.

"Unfortunately we saw the country go in a different direction (in 2020 election) but his policies still stand the test of time."

Lombardo, however, was clear that any cheating in the 2020 election did not rise to a level that would have denied Trump the victory.

"Yes, there was cheating, but to the level that would have changed the result? I don't believe so," Lombardo said.

"The reason why I say, 'I don't believe so' is that the evidence has not been presented. I'm in an evidence-based profession currently and that (evidence) makes my decisions more often than not. And it was brought forward and I know it ended up in the court system. They opined on it and said no, there wasn't a significant amount of fraud to change the election.

"The Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, engaged in that and she, likewise, said the same narrative. So you have to support her decision," Lombardo said.

He does not see Trump's endorsement, a big boost in the Republican primary, turning into a liability during the general-election campaign.

"That is the question that constantly gets presented when you embrace any endorsement, no matter who it is, whether (or not) they had divided the voting population during their tenure as a politician.

"Yeah, you take that under consideration," Lombardo said about the Trump endorsement. "But to be honest with you, the independents (non-partisan) are going make a big difference in this election moving forward. Granted, the Ds (Democrats) have a slight advantage in registered voters, but the independents, by the day and by the week, are changing that paradigm and that will be the more influential piece in this election."

The 'Mom & Pop' vote

Mothers and fathers of children in the school system -- who saw firsthand the home-school-learning issues during the Covid lockdown, could become the sleeping giant among voter demographics in the 2022 elections, Lombardo said.

"I think that could be the biggest influence," he said. "We are seeing that across the nation, as a result of parents getting involved in kids' education. We are seeing the failure or deficiencies associated with education. Because of that awareness, they are watching their kids learn online and oh, they say, 'You're learning what!?' And so, they have created, probably, the most momentum in the voting space than any other demographic.

"I'm interested to see what occurs in the state of Nevada because if it is similarly situated to what we've seen in primaries in states in the last couple of weeks, yeah, they are going to have the largest influence."

Tax incentives to attract business

Lombardo cited a need to diversity Nevada's economy, especially in Southern Nevada where much of the economy depends on gaming and tourism. He said he would continue to offer tax incentives to lure out-of-state businesses to Nevada, although he admitted some people consider it "corporate welfare."

"Yeah, the reason I say that (continue tax breaks) is because it is already codified in law," Lombardo said. "There are tax incentives associated with companies, as long as it is based on the number of employees they bring in, based on the product they are producing, the amount of product they are producing and also that the wages are commensurate to a standard of living within the state of Nevada.

"Additionally built in on that are 'claw backs,'" Lombardo said. "If they (businesses) are not meeting their performance measures, if they are not putting a foundation into the ground nor have a long-term influence of the generalized economy, we have claw backs, the best way to describe it, to get our tax revenue back."

Others disagree, Lombardo noted.

"Quite often it is called corporate welfare, depending on who you are talking to and I don't see it that way," he said. "And the reason I don't see it that way is the proof is in the pudding. We have seen that with Panasonic, we've seen that with Switch, we've seen that with Tesla in Northern Nevada and as a result, their economy is booming. They are not limited in the space of gambling, opposite of the situation here in Southern Nevada."

Review-Journal lawsuit

Recently, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Committee on Fiscal Affairs approved a $250,000 taxpayer payment to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, stemming from the newspaper's lawsuit over Metro’s reluctance to release reports, video and audio connected to the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip.

Lombardo, however, defended his department's action in the legal fight on state public-record statutes, despite the huge penalty paid by Clark County taxpayers.

"I didn't ignore the statutes," he said. "A lot of those statues are vague and subject to interpretation. It has been a matter of record, a matter of pattern and practice that on ongoing investigations, we don't release that because it could have an influence on that actual investigation."

Besides, the R-J's request took too much of the department's time -- time better spent fighting crime, Lombardo said.

"In those case, we have volumes upon volumes upon volumes, hours upon hours of data that we have to comb through," he said. "We had to evaluate and there is a cost associated with that. There's human capital associated with that. And then the argument is that, 'Well, taxpayers pay for that human capital.'

"Taxpayers pay for that human capital to fight crime in my police department, not to go through paperwork all day and watch video all day," Lombardo said.The R-J has not published much of the information turned over to it, Lombardo said. That further irritates the sheriff.

"The interesting piece of that is 99 percent of all that was recovered by the R-J in the eventuality of that lawsuit, they didn't even utilize," Lombardo said. "So that is very frustrating. And you've got to remember those particular businesses (news media) are for-profit, too. It is not just for the good of the people; it is for the good of their business. And I have to measure all that as the head of the agency and the protection of the victims is my priority."

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