The Nevada Commission on Ethics declined in a closed hearing Tuesday to look into a complaint lodged against Carson City Sheriff Rod Banister.
The complaint by Reno Attorney Fred Atcheson was based on District Judge Michael Fondi's written account of a telephone call he received from Banister after Fondi dismissed a felony charge against Ron Weddell, a client of Atcheson's.
The judge wrote that Banister called him at home after the ruling, criticizing Fondi's decision to toss out an assault charge against Weddell. Fondi wrote that Banister asked him "how much money the decision put in my pocket."
Fondi had ruled that Nevada law permits a person to use deadly force in attempting a citizen's arrest. Weddell should not be prosecuted for firing a handgun in October 1997 while trying to arrest a man who Weddell believed had run a vehicle into his employee and had briefly kidnapped his daughter, Fondi had decided.
The ethics commission's initial review in such cases is confidential under Nevada law. Weddell was asked to wait outside but said that Banister and Atcheson were both present.
About 15 minutes later, Atcheson came out and told Weddell that the commission had determined it lacks jurisdiction in the complaint, but had suggested the state Commission on Judicial Ethics might be the proper forum.
Atcheson, who said he was bound by the confidentiality rules, left after telling Weddell he did not know why the judicial ethics body was suggested.
"They failed to get the point," Weddell said. "They apparently thought that Banister was making a complaint against the judge."
He said not having a body that could address behaviors like that detailed by Fondi means that public officials in Nevada can violate the law with impunity.
A telephone calll seeking a comment was not returned Thursday afternoon by Banister, who reportedly was in a meeting at the sheriff's department.