More than 100 defense attorneys filed ethics complaint alleging he has complete disregard for law when putting lawyers and defendants in custody for contempt
A Las Vegas judge was in the spotlight last week for ordering a public defender to be placed in handcuffs to teach her a lesson for speaking out in court. But on Wednesday, judge Conrad Hafen received his own chastising.
A group of 150 defense attorneys filed an ethics complaint alleging that he shows a complete disregard for the law when putting lawyers and defendants in custody for contempt.
The complaint, brought by Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice (NACJ) and first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, claims that the judges mercurial rulings have on several occasions deprived people of proper defense hearings and even resulted in unnecessary jail time.
On 23 May, deputy public defender Zohra Bakhtary sat in a jury box next to inmates in jail attire as Hafen finished the hearing during which she was handcuffed. He sentenced Bakhtarys client to six months in jail for petit larceny without an attorney by the mans side, which the ethics complaint called a callous disregard for the defense function, the dignity of defense counsel and the integrity of the criminal justice system.
The judge was set off when Bakhtary continued to argue her clients case after Hafen told her to be quiet.
Do you want to be found in contempt? the judge asked.
Judge, youre asking Bakhtary replied
Zohra, be quiet. Now. Not another word.
Travis, right now. Im tired of it. Right now, Hafen said to the marshall, ordering her to be taken into custody. While Bakhtary remained in handcuffs, Hafen asked whether a law clerk might finish her caseload, according to the complaint. The clerk wasnt licensed to practice law, so Hafen allowed Bakhtary to be released, adding that, I think shes learned a lesson.
Neither Bakhtary nor Hafen could be reached for comment, but the judge told a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter last week that he has had difficulty with Bakhtary for six months and its not proper decorum for her to continue to talk over me or interrupt.
Clark Countys public defenders union condemned the judges behavior, pointing out that no lawyer has ever been handcuffed during a court hearing in Nevada history, and that doing so violated due process.
Public defenders exclusively represent people with little or no money: the poor, the statement read. Judge Hafen silenced an attorney who was merely attempting to speak on her clients behalf. He violated one of our most sacred, fundamental, and constitutionally protected rights.
Phil Kohn, Clark Countys chief public defender, told the Guardian there was nothing contemptuous or disrespectful about Bakhtarys behavior and the office was rallying behind her. Its not going to have a chilling effect. Im afraid that may have been the intent when he said Im going to teach her a lesson, but were going to keep doing our job.
The unprecedented nature of Bakhtarys treatment has led some public defenders to connect the incident to other occasions when women of color were silenced through demeaning court actions, such as Liyah Brown, a black defense attorney in Washington DC who was searched and detained in 2007 for vociferously defending her client, a homeless man.
For us public defenders, it symbolizes the way many of us have been treated historically as not real lawyers, as not real professionals, and this has taken on a symbolic import, said Ernie Lewis, executive director of the National Association of Public Defenders. All too often judges equate public defenders with our clients, and I think the more we learn to be client centered … the more some judges are pushing back against us.
That document also brought to light episodes when people who defended themselves in court were hastily put in contempt, including a woman named Latoya Anastasia Johnson who spent two weeks in jail for a courtroom outburst, which the NACJ considered a breach of due process.
When Montreal Carter arrived to Hafens court in December on trespassing charges, he was told he didnt qualify for a public defender, but when he asked for additional time to hire an attorney that request was denied. Carter acted as his own defense, but when he referenced the 14th amendment, Hafen cut him off saying the argument was irrelevant.
After a back-and-forth in which Carter said I was never given the opportunity Im just trying to defend myself, Hafen ended the trial by announcing that Carter would spend 10 days in jail for contempt, a punishment he later revised in apparent acknowledgement that it was excessive.
The judge in Browns case was reprimanded for detaining her, and Hafen may face sanctions from the Nevada commission on judicial discipline. Also, the ethics complaint will likely imperil his reelection in November.
Read more: www.theguardian.com