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Las Vegas judge banned for life over handcuffing public defender

Las Vegas judge banned for life over handcuffing public defender
Former Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen has agreed never to hold judicial office in Nevada again, accepting public censure from the disciplinary commission over – among other things – ordering a public defender to be handcuffed during a trial.

Hafen agreed to the decision by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, admitting he failed to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary;” uphold the law and “perform all duties of his judicial office fairly and impartially;” and was not “patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, court officials and others he dealt with in his official capacity.”

The commission based their findings on four incidents involving Hafen handing down punishments for contempt of court. Three of the incidents involved Clark County Deputy Public Defender Zohra Bakhtary.

On two occasions, Bakhtary was present in court when Hafen found a defendant and a material witness in contempt of court and ordered them jailed. On the third occasion, in May 2016, Bakhtary repeatedly interrupted the judge as he tried to rule in the case involving her client.

According to witnesses interviewed by the commission, Hafen told Bakhtary to “be quiet” and – when she continued to argue – ordered a bailiff to handcuff her. The court transcript shows that at the end of the hearing, Hafen ordered the bailiff to “un-cuff Zohra,” adding that “I think she’s learned a lesson.”

On this occasion, Hafen did enter a written Order of Contempt of Court, but it was vacated by another judge on August 2. That judge did conclude Bakhtary’s conduct as described in Hafen’s order “may have qualified as less than professional or even inappropriate behavior,” the Committee noted.

Hafen lost his re-election bid in June 2016 and has agreed to “not seek, accept or serve in any judicial or adjudicative position or capacity in the future in any jurisdiction in the State of Nevada.”

Last week, the Commission publicly reprimanded and fined another Nevada judge $1,000 for “exceeding her jurisdictional authority.” Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson abused her office to do a favor for a personal friend in 2014, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

In February 2014, Andress-Tobiasson issued an “ex parte” ruling in the divorce case involving her friend and Las Vegas attorney Jennifer Bolton, the Commission noted. The ruling compelled a Canadian court to approve Bolton’s divorce from her wife Vivian.

According to the Commission, however, the order exceeded Andress-Tobiasson’s “lawful judicial power” as a justice of the peace.