Lawsuit against Boulder City residents will cost taxpayers

Taxpayers in Boulder City will be digging deep into their wallets to pay for a five-year legal battle that has finally been settled.

City officials decided to sue six Boulder City residents who circulated citizen petitions that would have imposed controls on the city council.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say this was a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate the public, and it worked. The plaintiffs won, and won big. The total cost to Boulder City is approaching $1 million.

But it’s a bittersweet victory because the money that was spent in legal fees and now in compensation is taxpayer money.

Nevada courts have ruled that the tightly knit group which runs Boulder City was clearly trying to intimidate its own citizens from becoming involved in the political process, and it seems likely they would do it again if they got the chance.

“There is a certain handful of individuals who control Boulder City and have controlled it for quite awhile,” said Linda Strickland, attorney for Boulder City plaintiffs.

Strickland has been up against the Boulder City cabal from the inside as a city council member and from the outside, as attorney for the six residents who were sued. And even though she pummeled Boulder City in court and has just settled the case, she doesn’t think the city elite learned anything.

“I think it is business as usual in Boulder City and I don’t actually believe the city council or the city attorney recognize or accept what they actually did,” Strickland said. “Basically, they would do it again if they were in the same situation.”

In 2010, Boulder City residents felt the city council was out of control on spending and had stacked the deck by filling city departments, boards, and commissions with people tied to the council by blood, marriage, or religion.

Since the council wouldn’t agree to change, residents exercised their First Amendment right by circulating petitions. Two of the three petitions were voted into law. That’s when the city decided to sue the individuals who had gathered signatures. 

Strickland and others say it was an obvious and ham-handed attempt to intimidate the public. The mayor disagreed in a 2013 interview.

“We weren’t going after them,” Mayor Roger Tobler said. “We wanted clarification.”  If they wanted clarification, Strickland argued, they could have obtained it without suing individuals. The Nevada Supreme Court and other judges agreed that it was a tactical move to prevent further action by the public. 

And it worked. Nonetheless, Boulder City will have to reach even further into its tight coffers to pay up. The settlement amount is reportedly $235,000 dollars, but that’s only a tiny part of what’s been spent to defend the indefensible.

“We do believe we have a handle on anywhere between $775,000 and $1 million that was paid by the city of Boulder City as a result of their decision to sue people for circulating petition initiatives,” Strickland said.

She says she settled for less than could have obtained because her clients were never out to profit from this and were dragged into it against their will. Also, she said there is an anti-slap proposal now sailing through the state legislature that would strip Nevadans of their First Amendment protections and make it much easier for the rich and powerful to sue regular people who say things they don’t like. 

If the law now pending had been in effect back when this legal fight began, Strickland thinks Boulder City would have crushed her clients and gotten away with it.

Boulder City did not respond to the I-Team’s requests for a comment.

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