Willis out of Weddell civil rights suit

RENO - A federal lawsuit against Carson City Justice of the Peace Robey Willis was dismissed Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Carson City Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg said Judge Howard McKibben ruled Willis was immune from a lawsuit because his actions fell within his duties as a judge.

"(Willis) refused to file a criminal complaint drafted by Weddell against John and James Bustamonte," Forsberg said. "The only real claim in the civil rights case had to do with Robey's refusal to handle the complaint or have it filed."

McKibben said there was nothing in the case that would eliminate Willis' immunity, Forsberg said.

"Everything the judge did was part of his judicial function," he said. "Immunity is absolute. Judges have to be free of threats of litigation for their decisions."

Willis said he was pleased to be out of the federal lawsuit.

"I'm happy that part is over with," he said. "Judge McKibben obviously followed the law. They had a route to take it up to district court. Instead they decided to sue me."

Willis said if Weddell is successful in his effort to get a grand jury investigation, he will give the same evidence.

"I'll be happy to go up to the grand jury and tell them the same things I told Howard McKibben," he said.

Weddell said he was not surprised by McKibben's ruling in the case.

"It doesn't come as any real surprise to me," he said. "We, as lay people, have a very difficult time protecting ourselves from the government. If you look at all of the cases that have been brought against Carson City, what happens is that it basically in my view these government officials just protect one another."

Weddell said he and his attorney discussed the possibility that the case against Willis would be dismissed before Thursday's hearing and that there may be an appeal.

"We discussed the possibility of this happening and I've thought about appealing it," he said.

The Carson City businessman filed his federal lawsuit Oct. 19, 1999, against Willis, Sheriff Rod Banister, Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer and six sheriff's deputies, as well as the Bustamonte brothers.

Willis was named in the case after Weddell attempted in February 1998 to file a criminal complaint against the Bustamontes in Carson City Justice Court. According to the federal complaint, Willis refused to allow Weddell's complaint to be filed.

The issue began Oct. 16, 1997, when Jamie Bustamonte allegedly tried to run over one of Weddell's employees in his Carson City construction yard, yelling for Weddell's daughter Kellie, who was said to owe him money for drugs.

The next day, Weddell reported to a Carson City sheriff's dispatcher that he had attempted to make a citizen's arrest of Jamie Bustamonte on Scotch Pine Drive. Weddell fired four rounds from a Glock 9-mm automatic pistol as Bustamonte ran away and Weddell was arrested. Bustamonte has never been charged in the attempted assault.

Judge Michael Fondi dismissed the charge against Weddell June 24, 1999, saying that under Nevada law, a citizen may use deadly force in making a citizen's arrest for a suspected felony.

Fondi's dismissal is under appeal by the Carson City District Attorney's Office to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Forsberg said the rest of the defendants in the lawsuit are still involved.

"All of the rest of the defendants are still in the case and all have motions pending, and those are working way through system," he said. "I would expect a hearing would be set in the next couple of months."

Weddell is confident the lawsuit has merit and that a grand jury will be impaneled.

"Our lawsuit is a good lawsuit," he said.

Weddell said enough signatures have been collected and that his group will present the petition to Fondi's successor when he is named. Fondi retired Aug. 11 after 23 years on the bench.

"We're all done," he said. "We're waiting for a new judge to be appointed so we can take it over to them."


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