Tag Archives: federal public defender

Judge Hafen Has Completely Lost It; Excluded Murder Victims’ Family From Court; Threatens to Arrest Reporter

Las Vegas Judge Hafen Straight JacketPreviously, I’ve done a number of stories (See related posts section below) on the train-wreck that Judge Hafen, a soon to be former Las Vegas Justice of the Peace has become over the past several months.

The downward spiral began (and has mostly revolved around) when he ordered Zohra Bakhtary, deputy public defender, to be handcuffed in the courtroom while she was attempting to defend a client, which according to him was intended to “teach her a lesson.”

As a result, hundreds of public defenders across the country criticized Hafen and a local union that represents over 100 defense attorneys also filed a formal letter of complaint against the judge. Not long after the incident, local voters also displayed their displeasure with Judge Hafen when he lost in the primary elections overwhelmingly. In addition, earlier this month the contempt charges Hafen had filed against Bakhtary for the courtroom incident were thrown out by another judge.

Now, with this latest twist in the bizarre road he seems intent on driving down, soon to be Former Judge Hafen has apparently completely lost any sense of proper courtroom procedures and the “decorum” that he has insisted was behind his inappropriate treatment of Bakhtary. In fact, whether it’s bitterness over his electoral loss or just yet another extension of the bullying nature he displayed on the bench that became public during the fallout over the handcuffing incident, he seems like he has pretty much just completely lost it.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen, who lost his bid for re-election in June after the newspaper reported a series of stories about his decision to handcuff a deputy public defender in his courtroom, also refused to give a Review-Journal photographer access to the courtroom, even though television news cameras were allowed in.

The judge’s marshal specifically instructed the newspaper’s reporter not to use a cellphone in the courtroom for any purpose, even audio recording, which is typically permitted throughout the Regional Justice Center. The marshal said the reporter would be handcuffed and taken into custody if he used the phone. Meanwhile, several others in the courtroom continued to operate cellphones.

“Courts are presumed to be open and obligated to be fair,” said Review-Journal Editor J. Keith Moyer. “The Review-Journal will aggressively contest any attempt to limit public access to our justice system.”

A lawyer for the Review-Journal, Maggie McLetchie, plans to file further court documents asking the judge for camera access at future hearings in the murder case.

“Judge Hafen improperly denied the Review-Journal the ability to take photographs, despite the fact that other people were allowed to take photographs,” McLetchie said. “He improperly denied the ability to audio record, and he also improperly denied the public access to open court proceedings. All these issues are at odds with case law and Supreme Court rules, making clear how important the public and media access to courtrooms and court proceedings are. We hope he changes course so the public and the media have full access to the proceedings.”

Relatives of the two victims, 45-year-old Mario Jimenez and 27-year-old Angelica Jimenez, stood in the hallway outside the courtroom, unsure why they were prohibited from observing the arraignment.

The victims were left to die in a burning east valley home in November. They were zip-tied, duct-taped, stabbed repeatedly and doused in gasoline before being lit on fire, according to an arrest report.

Defendants Malik Watson, 27, Darrin Rafael Wilder, 26, and Hakim Rydell Blanche-Jones, 26, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder, kidnapping, arson, burglary and robbery charges. Las Vegas police said Watson was extradited last week from Philadelphia…

On Tuesday, the judge did not give representatives of the Review-Journal a chance to be heard regarding the use of a camera or cellphone at the hearing.

The Nevada Supreme Court Rules on Electronic Coverage of Court Proceedings address cameras inside courtrooms.

“News reporters desiring permission to provide electronic coverage of a proceeding in the courtroom shall file a written request with the judge at least 24 hours before the proceeding commences, however, the judge may grant such a request on shorter notice or waive the requirement for a written request,” the rules state.

In addition, the rules state that “there is a presumption that all courtroom proceedings that are open to the public are subject to electronic coverage.”

The Review-Journal’s reporter submitted camera access papers to the judge shortly before Tuesday’s hearing.

In denying the newspaper’s request, Hafen wrote that the reporter failed to provide “good cause” for filing the request on short notice.

A Justice Court media request form suggests that the document be filed within 72 hours of a hearing.

The Supreme Court rules also carve out exceptions for the use of cellphones in court.

“It will be understood that these devices will be used only for accurate transcriptions of the court proceedings, and are not to be used for broadcast,” the rules state. “Use of an electronic device without permission, other than as described in this rule, may result in the confiscation of the device.”

Civil rights lawyer Allen Lichtenstein, who is not involved in the case, said Hafen was “wrong on several counts” and that public access to courtrooms helps guarantee fair hearings.

“Secret justice is no justice at all,” Lichtenstein said. “We’ve learned that through history. When the public has the opportunity to see how our system works, it operates as a check on abuse. … The default position is that in this country, our court system should be open for scrutiny.”

One of the things that I did when I designed the Cop Block Press Passes several years ago was research the rules and legalities of press passes and the granting of press access. As is stated in the LVRJ articled quoted above, when it comes to public officials there are clear legal precedents relating to reasons they can exclude people or media organizations from press access. (Press passes themselves are fairly irrelevant to this.)

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They can legally set up certain criteria for who qualifies for press access, however that criteria has to be equally applied across the board. They can’t base whether you will be approved for formal press access solely on arbitrary things such as whether you are a blogger or internet based media representative instead of print or television media. Nor can they base their decision on editorial direction or you having written (or a media organization having published) something critical of them.

Video and photography can also be prohibited when they are deemed to represent some sort of threat to one of the participants in a court case. However, once again that must be applied universally and not just to specific individuals. Obviously, since their were other media representatives that had been approved and were allowed to film and audio record during the proceedings in question that was not the case and it would seem to be a clear case of bias against a reporter from the paper that has been reporting on Judge Hafen’s negative behavior.

So this latest tantrum by Judge Hafen was not just silly and vindictive, but pretty clearly badly at odds with the law and legal precedent. It’s not hard to figure out why he decided he didn’t approve the request for photography rights of a reporter from the Review Journal and then specifically told a court marshal to pace him in handcuffs if he used his cellphone in a manner that media regularly does. And the part where he (for some unexplained reason) barred the relatives of two people who were viciously murdered from observing the trial of the people accused of those murders is even worse and downright disrespectful to them.

Related Posts:

  1. Contempt Charge Against Defense Attorney Who Was Handcuffed in Court by Las Vegas Judge Dismissed
  2. Las Vegas Judge Who Handcuffed Defense Attorney During Trial Taught Lesson by Voters
  3. An Open Letter to Las Vegas Judge Who Handcuffed A Defense Attorney in Court
  4. Las Vegas Judge Has Defense Attorney Handcuffed During Trial to “Teach Her a Lesson”

Las Vegas Judge Continues Bizarre, Out of Control Behavior; Throws Family of Murder Victims Out of Court; Threatens to Arrest Reporter

Previously, I’ve done a number of stories (see related posts section below) on the train-wreck that Judge Hafen, a soon to be former Las Vegas Justice of the Peace, has become over the past several months.

The downward spiral began (and has mostly revolved around) when he ordered Zohra Bakhtary, a deputy public defender, to be handcuffed in the courtroom while she was attempting to defend a client, which according to him was intended to “teach her a lesson.”

As a result, hundreds of public defenders across the country criticized Hafen and a local union that represents over 100 defense attorneys also filed a formal letter of complaint against the judge. Not long after the incident, local voters also displayed their displeasure with Judge Hafen when he lost in the primary elections overwhelmingly. In addition, earlier this month the contempt charges Hafen had filed against Bakhtary for the courtroom incident were thrown out by another judge.

Now, with this latest twist in the bizarre road he seems intent on driving down, soon to be Former Judge Hafen has apparently completely lost any sense of proper courtroom procedures and the “decorum” that he has insisted was behind his inappropriate treatment of Bakhtary. In fact, whether it’s bitterness over his electoral loss or just yet another extension of the bullying nature he displayed on the bench that became public during the fallout over the handcuffing incident, he seems like he has pretty much just completely lost it.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen, who lost his bid for re-election in June after the newspaper reported a series of stories about his decision to handcuff a deputy public defender in his courtroom, also refused to give a Review-Journal photographer access to the courtroom, even though television news cameras were allowed in.

The judge’s marshal specifically instructed the newspaper’s reporter not to use a cellphone in the courtroom for any purpose, even audio recording, which is typically permitted throughout the Regional Justice Center. The marshal said the reporter would be handcuffed and taken into custody if he used the phone. Meanwhile, several others in the courtroom continued to operate cellphones.

“Courts are presumed to be open and obligated to be fair,” said Review-Journal Editor J. Keith Moyer. “The Review-Journal will aggressively contest any attempt to limit public access to our justice system.”

 A lawyer for the Review-Journal, Maggie McLetchie, plans to file further court documents asking the judge for camera access at future hearings in the murder case.

“Judge Hafen improperly denied the Review-Journal the ability to take photographs, despite the fact that other people were allowed to take photographs,” McLetchie said. “He improperly denied the ability to audio record, and he also improperly denied the public access to open court proceedings. All these issues are at odds with case law and Supreme Court rules, making clear how important the public and media access to courtrooms and court proceedings are. We hope he changes course so the public and the media have full access to the proceedings.”

Relatives of the two victims, 45-year-old Mario Jimenez and 27-year-old Angelica Jimenez, stood in the hallway outside the courtroom, unsure why they were prohibited from observing the arraignment.

The victims were left to die in a burning east valley home in November. They were zip-tied, duct-taped, stabbed repeatedly and doused in gasoline before being lit on fire, according to an arrest report.

Defendants Malik Watson, 27, Darrin Rafael Wilder, 26, and Hakim Rydell Blanche-Jones, 26, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder, kidnapping, arson, burglary and robbery charges. Las Vegas police said Watson was extradited last week from Philadelphia…

On Tuesday, the judge did not give representatives of the Review-Journal a chance to be heard regarding the use of a camera or cellphone at the hearing.

The Nevada Supreme Court Rules on Electronic Coverage of Court Proceedings address cameras inside courtrooms.

“News reporters desiring permission to provide electronic coverage of a proceeding in the courtroom shall file a written request with the judge at least 24 hours before the proceeding commences, however, the judge may grant such a request on shorter notice or waive the requirement for a written request,” the rules state.

In addition, the rules state that “there is a presumption that all courtroom proceedings that are open to the public are subject to electronic coverage.”

The Review-Journal’s reporter submitted camera access papers to the judge shortly before Tuesday’s hearing.

In denying the newspaper’s request, Hafen wrote that the reporter failed to provide “good cause” for filing the request on short notice.

A Justice Court media request form suggests that the document be filed within 72 hours of a hearing.

The Supreme Court rules also carve out exceptions for the use of cellphones in court.

“It will be understood that these devices will be used only for accurate transcriptions of the court proceedings, and are not to be used for broadcast,” the rules state. “Use of an electronic device without permission, other than as described in this rule, may result in the confiscation of the device.”

Civil rights lawyer Allen Lichtenstein, who is not involved in the case, said Hafen was “wrong on several counts” and that public access to courtrooms helps guarantee fair hearings.

“Secret justice is no justice at all,” Lichtenstein said. “We’ve learned that through history. When the public has the opportunity to see how our system works, it operates as a check on abuse. … The default position is that in this country, our court system should be open for scrutiny.”

One of the things that I did when I designed the Cop Block Press Passes several years ago was research the rules and legalities of press passes and the granting of press access. As is stated in the LVRJ articled quoted above, when it comes to public officials there are clear legal precedents relating to reasons they can exclude people or media organizations from press access. (Press passes themselves are fairly irrelevant to this.)

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They can legally set up certain criteria for who qualifies for press access, however that criteria has to be equally applied across the board. They can’t base whether you will be approved for formal press access solely on arbitrary things such as whether you are a blogger or internet based media representative instead of print or television media. Nor can they base their decision on editorial direction or you having written (or a media organization having published) something critical of them.

Video and photography can also be prohibited when they are deemed to represent some sort of threat to one of the participants in a court case. However, once again that must be applied universally and not just to specific individuals. Obviously, since their were other media representatives that had been approved and were allowed to film and audio record during the proceedings in question that was not the case and it would seem to be a clear case of bias against a reporter from the paper that has been reporting on Judge Hafen’s negative behavior.

So this latest tantrum by Judge Hafen was not just silly and vindictive, but pretty clearly badly at odds with the law and legal precedent. It’s not hard to figure out why he decided he didn’t approve the request for photography rights of a reporter from the Review Journal and then specifically told a court marshal to pace him in handcuffs if he used his cellphone in a manner that media regularly does. And the part where he (for some unexplained reason) barred the relatives of two people who were viciously murdered from observing the trial of the people accused of those murders is even worse and downright disrespectful to them.

(Full disclosure: Maggie McLetchie, who is identified as one of the paper’s  attorneys in the LVRJ article quoted above is a former partner in the law firm that represented me and several others when we were illegally arrested for writing on public sidewalks with sidewalk chalk.

She’s also a member of the law firm that is currently representing me and two other people in a lawsuit resulting from those illegal arrests. However, I have not spoken to her in regard to this or any other posts I have written about Judge Hafen’s recent behavior.)

Related Posts:

  1. Contempt Charge Against Defense Attorney Who Was Handcuffed in Court by Las Vegas Judge Dismissed
  2. Las Vegas Judge Who Handcuffed Defense Attorney During Trial Taught Lesson by Voters
  3. An Open Letter to Las Vegas Judge Who Handcuffed A Defense Attorney in Court
  4. Las Vegas Judge Has Defense Attorney Handcuffed During Trial to “Teach Her a Lesson”

Contempt Charge Against Defense Attorney Who was Handcuffed in Court by Las Vegas Judge Dismissed

On August 2nd, a contempt of court charge filed by Judge Hafen, a Las Vegas Justice of the Peace, against Zohra Bakhtary was thrown out by a Clark County district judge.

This is the second public rebuke of Hafen, who received much publicity and criticism when he ordered Bakhtary to be handcuffed by a court marshal during court as the deputy public defender was attempting to represent a client. In June, during the Nevada primary elections, Hafen was defeated by Amy Cheline in a landslide, rendering him a former judge, effective in January.

In addition, the client whom Bakhtary was attempting to defend at the time she was, according to Hafen, “taught a lesson” by being handcuffed in open court, has also been ordered released by another judge.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

Bakhtary’s attorney, Dominic Gentile, said Hafen had confused Bakhtary’s “zealous defense” with obstruction of justice, and she was never given the opportunity to speak on her own behalf.

Nick Crosby, a lawyer representing Hafen, argued that attorneys should uphold a professional demeanor in court, speak in their own time with relevance and moderation, and allow the court to do its job without interference.

After Hafen ordered a court marshal to handcuff Bakhtary on May 23, she was left to sit silently, while her client was sent to jail for six months on a larceny charge.

In his contempt order, Hafen wrote that Bakhtary displayed “disorderly, contemptuous or insolent behavior” and that he had “asked defense counsel on numerous times/occasions to not interrupt” him while he was issuing his decision.

Bakhtary, 30, has said she was not trying to argue with the judge. She was released from the handcuffs after about three minutes, after the judge declared that she had “learned a lesson.”

Throwing out the contempt charge, District Judge Gloria Sturman ruled that Bakhtary was denied due process and not allowed to speak in her own defense or call her supervisor before a marshal handcuffed her and placed her in the jury box of the courtroom.

In response to Sturman’s ruling, Gentile said, “At a minimum, it means that judges need to understand that they themselves may not like what a lawyer is doing, but that does not mean that they can capriciously and arbitrarily hold them in contempt. It also means that lawyers have a duty to zealously represent their clients. And sometimes that means standing up to a judge that’s wrong.

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“Zohra exemplified what it means to be a zealous advocate. She really establishes herself as a model for standing up when you have to, even at a personal cost, such as this was to her.”

Bakhtary, who called being handcuffed in court “humiliating,” has not appeared before Hafen since the incident. Her client at the time, Daniel Fernandez, was later released from jail after another judge ordered the larceny case closed.

“The court’s constitutional duty is to listen to arguments, not silence them,” Bakhtary said. “While this act of physical restraint did not diminish my passion and devotion to continue to represent the indigent, it was extremely disturbing that the court continued to sentence my client without an attorney after having violated his right to counsel.”

At this point, it’s pretty clear who was in the wrong in this little standoff. Soon to be ex-judge Hafen not only went overboard while trying to show who the dictator in his courtroom was, but obviously picked the wrong time to do so, in light of the proximity to the elections and the (proper) reaction of local voters.

Judge Who Handcuffed Defense Attorney During Las Vegas Trial Taught Lesson by Voters

Las Vegas Judge Hafen Defeated
Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen, who created an uproar last month when he ordered a defense attorney to be handcuffed during a trial in order to “teach her a lesson,” is now an ex-judge. He was defeated by a landslide in the Nevada primary elections, which were held on June 14th.

Amy “JoAnne” Chelini, who has served primarily as a defense attorney during her career, defeated Hafen and third place finisher Phung Horton Jefferson receiving 62.4 percent of the vote. Since she received better than 50 percent of the vote, Chelini won outright without needing to participate in the November general election.

Chelini actually won by close to 40 percent over Hafen’s 24.87 percent, so how much of it was due directly to the handcuffing incident is unknown. However, Hafen’s treatment of Deputy Public Defender Zohra Bakhtary received attention nationally. Some critics had even pointed to it as an example of larger issues women face when working for male bosses.

In addition, it shined a spotlight on his previous behavior toward lawyers appearing in his courtroom. The timing of it certainly couldn’t have been helpful for him.

Among other things, he had been accused of degrading lawyers by forcing them to wear children’s clip-on ties if they showed up without one. Other times he was said to have allowed his ego to negatively affect defendants that had to take time off from work by rescheduling their cases when their attorneys had not properly jumped through his arbitrary hoops.

Regardless of that, he was expected within local media to retain his position and a campaign to have him recalled had begun in anticipation of that. Obviously, that won’t be necessary now.

In the run up to the election, Hafen had touted his experience and knowledge of the law as reasons to vote for him. Meanwhile, Chelini had criticized him for “just throwing everybody in jail” stating that the department he oversaw lacked common sense. Based on that, it doesn’t sound like Hafen’s attitude was any better toward defendants appearing in his courtroom than it had been for the lawyers.

Las Vegas Judge Has Defense Attorney Handcuffed During Trial to “Teach Her a Lesson”

On Monday, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen ordered Deputy Public Defender Zohra Bakhtary to be handcuffed and placed within the area where defendants that are in custody normally are seated in the Las Vegas Justice Court. According to the judge she had violated “courtroom decorum” by speaking after he had told her to “be quiet.” (Transcript included below.)

Later he explained to the Las Vegas Review Journal in a phone interview:

“There’s been a progression of steps in the courtroom where I’ve tried to let her know it’s not proper decorum for her to continue to talk over me or interrupt me after she’s already made her argument,” he said. “Once an argument is made, then you have to allow the judge to respond, so there’s a clear record, and you shouldn’t be interrupting the judge as the judge is making a ruling. … I’ve been trying to work with her. And today it just spilled over to where I thought, ‘Well, clearly she’s not understanding what I’m trying to tell her.’ ”

However, according to Bakhtary, she was simply trying to properly defend her client and the judge wouldn’t listen to her argument. (Once again, via the Las Vegas Review Journal.)

“It all happened so fast,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday, a day after Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen ordered her placed into custody.

Hafen Bakhtary Transcript Las VegasShe was left to sit silently, alongside inmates, while her client was sent to jail for six months.

Moments earlier, Hafen told Zohra Bakhtary to “be quiet,” as she tried to argue that a man facing larceny charges should not be thrown behind bars. After Bakhtary tried to speak, the judge asked her if she wanted to be found in contempt.

“I was not trying to argue with the court,” Bakhtary said. “I was just trying to calm the situation down. I was never allowed to speak. I was never given the opportunity to respond to his question. Had I been given the chance to actually respond, it would have been, ‘Absolutely not…’”

“Every day I zealously represent my clients,” Bakhtary wrote in a statement to the newspaper. “Every individual who goes through our criminal justice system has a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. It is a frightening day when a lawyer is locked up for fighting on behalf of her clients and their rights. That is precisely what I was doing, my job. I was placed in handcuffs for attempting to speak on behalf of my client … I have a great deal of respect for our judiciary. I did not act unprofessionally. I simply wanted the Court to listen to my argument and consider it before remanding my client for a 180 day jail sentence. The Court’s constitutional duty is to listen to arguments, not silence them.”

And contrary to Judge Hafen’s comments about her having a habitual issue with following decorum, her supervisors within the public defender’s officer maintain that they have not received any sort of complaints about her work or demeanor either on or off the record about her conduct. They even characterize conversations they’ve had with Hafen himself regarding Bakhtary as complimentary in nature.

As far as her competency as a lawyer, Clark County lead public defender Phil Kohn says, “She’s a professional lawyer. It’s what I want in public defenders, and it’s certainly what our clients deserve.”

Bakhtory has also been defended by several legal experts, who according to the Huffington Post stated that it was the judge that was in need of a lesson in decorum. Some even pointed to it as a larger workplace issue of female public defenders being disrespected by judges:

It’s well within a judge’s power to restrain a person who is acting out of order in the courtroom, but rarely do they use this power against an attorney advocating on behalf of a client. And while Hafen didn’t make any specific references to Bakhtary’s gender in the court transcript, it’s possible to see the incident as fitting into a larger pattern of men silencing women in this kind of setting.

Stephen Cooper, a former federal and D.C. public defender, wrote an article on Bakhtary’s handcuffing that highlights two other instances in recent years in which female public defenders were treated with similar disrespect. He cites a particularly disturbing case from 2007, reported by The Washington Post, where a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered an attorney — a woman of color, like Bakhtary — to be “searched, shackled and detained” simply for attempting to inform the judge that her client was “homeless and poor.” That judge was later found to be grossly out of line and was reprimanded for his behavior.

Also on Thursday, the Clark County Defenders Union issued a statement criticizing Hafen’s actions in a letter signed by the members of the union, which represents 105 defense lawyers within the Las Vegas area.

The letter states (via the LVRJ):

“Judge Hafen improperly handcuffed one of our public defenders simply for doing her job,” according to the letter, signed by a 12-member board of directors. “His actions were unreasonable and unprecedented. Judge Hafen was wrong.”

The defense group wrote that with Bakhtary in handcuffs, Fernandez was denied his right to an attorney.
Hafen “violated one of our most sacred, fundamental, and constitutionally protected rights,” according to the letter.

They also questioned why the audio recording system was turned off in the courtroom (the video is included in the previous link) and say that the transcript appears to be incomplete, not including the “aftermath” of the incident when Bakhart was released and reportedly asked for, but was denied, a break. (The full letter is embedded below.)

Related Post:

Clark County, Nevada Bailiff Has Woman Arrested For Accusing Him of Groping Her in Family Court

Full Transcript of the Incident:

Transcript of Hafen Contempt by Las Vegas Review-Journal

Full Letter From Clark County Defenders Union

Letter from CCDU by Las Vegas Review-Journal