I-Team: Traffic citation erupts into First Amendment battle in Boulder City

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A case that started as a misdemeanor traffic citation in Boulder City has erupted into a challenge to the First Amendment, and for now, it appears the First Amendment won.

A district court judge in Las Vegas overturned a gag order that has been issued by a Boulder City judge who wanted to stifle criticism of how the legal system was functioning.

In Boulder City, the same themes seem to come up again and again. A private citizen who staged his own peaceful protest landed in jail, and when his attorney found indications of police misconduct, the attorney was ordered to keep quiet. As we have often seen in Boulder City, this incident led to an intersection of politics and religion.

“I am a true believer in the LDS faith but as a true believer, I’m looking at this and saying ,how is this appropriate?”

Feisty attorney Stephen Stubbs has been both a defender and critic of Boulder City’s predominantly Mormon government over the years. He now finds himself a pariah.

“Friends for decades sent texts, they no longer want to be associated with me at all. They’re upset with me. I challenged their stake president, which is what you don’t do,” Stubbs said.

The fracas started in 2016 on Boulder City’s main drag. Boulder City Police obtained federal funds to conduct a pedestrian sting operation, one designed to ticket motorists who fail to stop for pedestrians in this crosswalk on Nevada Way. A decoy in an orange shirt was assigned to walk back and forth across the road. There were problems from the start.

“This decoy was doing shady things. We have him on video walking extremely slow, walking into the crosswalk at one-fifth the speed a normal person would walk, and he’s stopping half-way and raising his hand,” Stubbs said.

Motorists who didn’t stop were chased and ticketed. One of them was a Boulder City local named John Hunt. But after being cited, he returned to the scene of the ongoing sting and began a one man protest, by doing the same thing the decoy was doing. It took hunt just over a minute to walk across the street three times. That was enough for police Sgt. John Glenn, who whipped into action.

Sgt. John Glenn can be heard saying, “Come over here. Come over here. Because I said so.”

Within minutes, other officers converged, and the pedestrian protester was taken down, then taken to jail.

Suspect: “Am I being detained?” 

Officer: “No, you’re being arrested.”

The report filed by Sgt. Glenn alleged that the suspect caused a vehicle to slam on its brakes and skid to a stop. When Stubbs obtained dash cam videos, it was clear there had been no such incident, so city attorney Dave Olsen decided to drop the charges. But when Stubbs later uncovered indications that someone had doctored the police audio of the arrest, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Boulder City then reinstated the original charges and tacked on a few more. When the case was heard at the Victor Miller courthouse, the prosecutor was the new city attorney Steve Morris, who also happens to be the stake president for the LDS church in Boulder City, meaning he is the spiritual leader for all of the town’s Mormons, including the judge.

“He’s the boss, thats the best way to say it. He is the boss with authority from God to speak for people within Boulder city,” Stubbs said.

Reporter George Knapp: “Including the courtroom?”

Stubbs: “Including the courtroom. The judge has judicial authority over the prosecutor but the prosecutor has moral and religious authority over the judge.”

Prosecutor Morris didn’t argue the law. He convinced the judge it was immoral for Stubbs to accuse the police improprieties. The judge agreed. Afterward, Stubbs sounded off on his Facebook page, complaining that Morris had a conflict.

Judge Miller saw the post and then issued a gag order which prohibited Stubbs and his client from saying anything critical of the city attorney.

“I was shocked,” Stubbs said. “I asked him to put it in writing. He did.”

The judge later called Stubbs and threatened him with contempt unless he also made sure the defendants father stop posting comments on his own Facebook page. Stubbs appealed on constitutional grounds. District Judge Susan Johnson ruled that the gag order violated the First Amendment rights of Stubbs and his client and overturned it.

READ: Judge Susan Johnson’s Order

It’s a win for Stubbs, but he knows he can never take another case in front of Boulder City’s only judge.

“When people call and ask me to represent them in Boulder City, I tell them, sorry but it is not in their best interest.

Reporter George Knapp:  “You did a lot of business out there?”

Stubbs: “It’s a huge financial hit for me.”

Judge Miller, who has served as the town’s municipal judge since 1984 and also as its justice of the peace since since 1994, is running for another six-year term. After his gag order was overturned by Judge Susan Johnson, he recused himself from the case of the crosswalk protester. The federal lawsuit filed by Stephen Stubbs is ongoing. 

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