Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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THE 'FAMILY AND FRIENDS' CALENDAR

In the ongoing federal corruption trial in downtown Las Vegas, strip club owner, star witness, and confessed felon Michael Galardi has named a lot of names.

One, former Deputy District Attorney Gary Guymon, is alleged by Galardi to have frequented the Cheetah’s club on Fridays -- “lawyers day” -- and to have accepted free drinks, lap dances, and illegal sexual favors from strippers in exchange for fixing speeding tickets and DUI and assault charges against Cheetah’s employees.

My. Guymon, who now works as a public defender, has denied he did anything improper.

Readers will decide for themselves which man is telling the truth. But on the question of whether Mr. Guymon carried traffic tickets down to municipal court, using his prestige and influence to get those tickets “fixed,” the former prosecutor offers not outright denials, but rather a Clintonian quibble over the definition of the word “fixed.”

Attorney Guymon admits that, at the same time he was working as a prosecutor, he sometimes did appear in court on behalf of Galardi employees with traffic tickets. “Any ticket (Cheetah’s manager) Mike Beezley brought to me, I brought to a judge,” Mr. Guymon said in a phone interview last week. “That’s what lawyers do.”

Really? One wonder if he kept records of his billable hours.

Mr. Guymon handled the tickets in a court session informally known as the “family and friends calendar,” he says. “Nobody’s ticket got fixed. Their tickets got resolved through the standard procedure.” If he’d wanted to “fix” the tickets, he would have told Galardi’s employees to plead guilty, Mr. Guymon says.

What?

District Attorney David Roger, who Mr. Guymon says demanded he resign over the Galardi accusations, described these proceedings as a time “when certain people are allowed to go before the court and negotiate tickets.”

Note the phrase “certain people.”

Asked whether any of his prosecutors still do this, Mr. Roger responded “It’s a rare occasion that prosecutors are down there (in traffic court.)”

Note “rare occasions” -- not “never.” Also note this answer does not contain the word “No.”

District Judge Stewart Bell, who was Clark County’s chief prosecutor from 1995 to 2002, says “A prosecutor probably shouldn’t be doing that.”

“Probably”?

Isn’t there anyone who remembers that justice is supposed to be the same for everyone?

Yes, actually, there is. Craig Walton, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, says “If this is a day when certain deputy district attorneys show up for people they consider family and friends, it’s just unacceptable.”

Judge Tony Abbatangelo, who’s handled traffic cases in Las Vegas Justice Court since 1996, says such cases on the “friend and family docket” are often resolved with reduced monetary fines and a voiding of the traffic ticket “points” that can lead to higher insurance rates.

Such procedures are all okey-dokey because such pre-trial conferences are “open to the general public,” the judge argues. This system seems fine to the judge -- who is also on the list of public officials who deny they took cash as alleged by Michael Galardi -- “maybe because growing up here, I know we’ve always done it that way.”

These men sound like pigs caught wallowing up to their bellies in swill, looking around and asking, “Really? Is that what this stuff is called?”

Last week, Las Vegas Justice Court chief judge James Bixler -- promoting a new system advertised as making it easier for cited drivers to figure out what they owe and to handle traffic tickets over the phone or via the Internet -- admitted it’s now so difficult, confusing and time-consuming to pay a traffic ticket in Clark County that even those who want to pay, often just give up.

“Some people wait as much as four hours” among the teeming throng of 1,200 people a day trying to pay fines or arrange court dates with the clerks, Judge Bixler admits.

Call three weeks after a ticket is issued -- as your court date looms ever closer -- and you’ll often be told, “That’s not in the computer yet: I can’t tell you how much to pay.”

And having taken a day off work to contest an unjust ticket on the day assigned, do drivers actually get to see a real judge? Will the officer who issued their ticket be there, ready to testify?

Of course not. Instead, they’re generally advised to post a “bond” equal to the amount of their ticket, and then return to the courthouse a second time -- at which point they’ll be urged to “just plead out and let us keep the money; we’ll drop some of those nasty ‘points’ against your license. You don’t want to come back a third time and REALLY see the judge, do you?” -- all designed not to promote “justice,” but merely to stretch out the uninitiated till they relent and “pay up.”

Nowhere on the tickets does it say, “Be sure to come down to the courthouse on ‘family and friends day,’ when you can quickly and conveniently get your fine and traffic ‘points’ reduced ...”

Oh no. That’s reserved for insiders with lawyer friends who know all the secret handshakes and who’re looking for a quick lap dance.

This routine fixing of traffic tickets for “friends and family” may not be the most heinous form of corruption revealed in the Herrera-Chauncey trial so far, but this procedure -- and the fact that all participants still seem to think it’s fine -- helps to show just how deeply corrupted Clark County’s “justice system” really is.

Judge Abbatangelo speaks of these sessions as being “open to the public,” as though they’re conducted on the lawn in the town park where wandering children and picnicking couples can stroll past and listen in.

In fact, seating in modern courtrooms is limited to about 40, most taken up by attorneys. Those at the courthouse information desk inform visitors that change for the overpriced parking meters is available “nowhere in the building.” The “friends and family” rules and hours are posted nowhere. Hardly anyone but knowledgeable insiders can successfully make it through the judges’ gantlet of armed, shaved-head bailiffs with metal detectors, singling out visitors not in coat-and-tie “lawyer uniform” to ask “What’s your business here?”

“So what?” some will ask. “Big deal, Vin. Wake up to reality.”

Problem is, when lawyers and politicians buffer themselves from the costly, time-consuming bureaucratic nightmares that they have spun for average citizens who merely want to reach the courthouse and deal with as simple a matter as paying a minor traffic ticket, they hasten the day when the frustrated mob will finally rise up and demand their heads. Then, like Marie Antoinette, it is they who will be puzzled by the “reality” of a howling mob.

“What’s the problem?” they will ask, their eyes as wide as President Bush the Elder when he first encountered a supermarket bar-code scanner. “This all goes quite briskly on Friends and Family day. If they lack bread, why can’t they just eat cake?”

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