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BC city attorney hit with ethics fine

City Attorney Dave Olsen was hit with a $1,500 fine Sept. 10 by the Nevada Commission of Ethics for his involvement in his son’s civil suit against Boulder City and Henderson in 2010.

The commission decided that Olsen committed a willful violation when he participated in Brian Olsen’s civil suit. It was Dave Olsen’s first offense, and the $1,500 fine is standard under the circumstances, Dave Olsen said.

Matters arose from a request for an opinion filed in February by former Boulder City Police Chief Thomas Finn, who claimed that Olsen violated several statutes with his involvement in the case, including his failure to abstain from acting on a matter in which abstention is required.

“I was happy to see that the Ethics Commission saw it for what it was, a willful violation,” Finn said. “I was disappointed by the amount of the fine. I guess ultimately, the fact that it was a willful violation … that’s what I wanted.”

The violation stems from Brian Olsen’s arrest in 2010 on allegations that he unlawfully transmitted nude pictures to himself from a female classmate’s cellphone after she let him borrow the phone, according to federal court documents.

After prosecutors declined to prosecute the case because of a lack of conclusive proof, Brian Olsen sued Boulder City and Henderson in U.S. District Court. He alleged police violated his constitutional rights to be free of unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.

Dave Olsen said his son asked him to take a look at the law after the incident, and was later approached by his son’s attorney, Cal Potter, who asked if he would be able to provide a legal analysis of the case.

Olsen claimed he submitted the case to the city’s insurance carrier, and informed the insurer that he needed to be left out of the case because his son was the plaintiff. He originally told the Boulder City Review he had nothing to do with the case and was only there as a father.

He also told the Boulder City Review that he didn’t serve as an expert witness, but court documents show he signed off as one.

“If I did say ‘I wasn’t,’ (an expert witness) I misspoke,” Olsen said about his claims in a previous article. “But I didn’t know that they had filed that paperwork. They listed me as an expert witness, and I had agreed, but I really had no qualifications as an expert.”

Olsen said expert witnesses are normally paid about $3,000 for their testimony during a case. He said he received no monetary compensation.

“I was more of a consultant than I was an expert witness,” he said. “An expert is recognized in their field. Usually they’re published, or they’ve taught courses in a law school, and they’ve testified previously as an expert. I’ve never been an expert witness before.”

Olsen said he thought he and the commission had an agreement worked out for a nonwillful violation, but the outcome changed shortly before the meeting began.

“They changed their minds right before the meeting. They just felt like that would be a more appropriate resolution,” he said.

Caren Cafferata-Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said first-time violators can be removed from office, but she said the commission saw no reason to even consider that action.

“Whenever you’re dealing with a family member, sometimes you get blinded,” she said. “What father wouldn’t stand up and argue for his son? At the same time, he’s wearing the hat as father and Boulder City attorney.”

In his July 23 ruling, Judge James Mahan wrote that Brian Olsen’s suit “screamed of frivolity” and federal law entitles defendants to recoup attorney’s fee, ordering Brian Olsen to pay $20,536.

Now that his ethics violation is in the books, Olsen said he “should’ve just said no” when it came to any sort of involvement with his son’s case. He said he also owned up to his mistake, and gave a statement to the commission as its meeting came to a close.

“He asked if he could make a statement, which is pretty rare,” Cafferata-Jenkins said. “He wanted to be able to say, I screwed up here and I’m sorry.”

“I’m not trying to run away from this,” Olsen said. “I told the commission that from the time I was a young man, I was always taught to share my successes, and to own my mistakes. They had a very favorable response to that.”

Cafferata-Jenkins said the commission could have imposed a $5,000 fine under the statute, but circumstances dictated that Olsen was not at risk for further violations.

“His judgment was clouded. It was his first offense,” she said. “And all factors indicated this was not going to happen again.”

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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