Tag Archives: Las Vegas Justice Court

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.

Four Days in a Las Vegas Jail for Protesting Government Murder by Drones

The following post was originally posted at the blog “Dissident Voice” under the title, “My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail” by Brian Terrell.

It describes the experience Terrell had dealing with the Las Vegas “justice” system after having been arrested during an anti-drone protest at Creech Air Force Base, which is located just north of Las Vegas and from where most of the drones murdering people in the Middle East are controlled remotely.

Although it is rather long, it is well worth reading as it makes many important points about the nature of the court system and the way that the courts have essentially become a giant ATM machine for the government.

Previously, I have written about these issues in relation to the Las Vegas courts. Those posts can be found here, here, and here.

“My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail”

“What happened to us was a shakedown by gangsters wearing police uniforms and judges’ robes, not for the sake of justice, but to maintain the civic infrastructure behind the glittering façade of Las Vegas with dollars squeezed out of its poorest citizens.”

“The degree of civilization in a society,” wrote the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, “can be judged by entering its prisons.” As a frequent visitor to Nevada in recent years, I have often been surprised by the cultural diversity and spiritual richness that can be found in Las Vegas. Still, I think that Dostoyevsky was right. A more accurate assessment of the degree of civilization in Las Vegas and for the broader society that the city claims to be “The Entertainment Capital” of can be made by entering the cells of the Clark County Correctional Center than by going to the top of the Stratosphere, cruising the Strip or even by taking in a Cirque du Soleil show.

I was one of twenty five arrested by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police at Creech Air Force Base, the center of drone assassination by the US Air Force and the CIA some forty miles northwest of the city on March 31 and April 1. “Shut Down Creech” was a weeklong convergence of activists from around the country. Most of us staying in tents at a makeshift “Camp Justice” in the desert across the highway from the base, our days of discussion, study, song, reflection and strategizing built up to a dramatic series of coordinated actions, including street theater and blockades, that disrupted the lethal business as usual of Creech. While we expected to be arrested, this was not our desire or our goal. Once again, the police arrested the wrong people as they abetted the criminals and took those who acted to stop a crime in progress down town to be booked.

Since 2009, I have had at least two other trips on the police from Creech to the county jail at the prestigious address, 330 S Casino Center Blvd in Las Vegas, to undergo the tedious process of booking, the fingerprinting, mugshots and other indignities before getting kicked out onto the sidewalk a few long hours later. This time, however, after my friends and comrades were released one by one, I remained behind. I was kept in jail for the next four days, not for my part in the day’s protest, but on a bench warrant due to an unpaid traffic fine.

I had been arrested a year before at another protest at Creech and cited for the misdemeanor crime of impeding traffic and released with 30 some others on our promise to return for trial. Some weeks later, the charges on ten of us were reduced to the traffic offence of “pedestrian soliciting a ride or business on a roadway” and we were assessed a $98 fine with no apparent way to plead not guilty. While those who eventually went to trial on the original charges were found not guilty or had their charges dismissed, those of us in the “hitchhikers’ club” all failed in our various attempts to have our cases heard. “How can I contest this ticket?” I asked the clerk at the Justice (sic) Court in Las Vegas. “You don’t contest it,” was the answer, “you PAY it.” In Las Vegas, it is easier to plead not guilty to a violent felony than it is to contest a traffic ticket.

Pay The Fine Las Vegas CourtIn due course I got a glossy postcard in the mail with a color photo of a perp getting handcuffed against a Metropolitan Police squad car, with the clever warning “Pay the Ticket, Avoid the Click-it.” This image, that can also be found on the court’s website, came with this threat: “The Las Vegas Township Justice Court will issue arrest warrants for all unpaid traffic tickets. An additional warrant fee of $150 and a late fee of $100 will be added to all tickets that proceed into warrant status. In addition to warrant fees and penalties, all unpaid traffic tickets will be reported to national credit reporting agencies.” A search of my case on the court’s website showed that I had been charged to pay for my own warrant and another “compliance fee,” apparently to pay for my account getting referred to a collection agency, bringing my bill up to $348.

These mounting fines and lack of access to the courts and the calls that started to come from a collection agency were a small annoyance to me, but are an indication of a larger systemic problem. The Las Vegas Justice Court Mission Statement (“The vision of the Las Vegas Justice Court is to maximize access to Justice, in order to achieve the highest possible level of Public Trust and Confidence”) notwithstanding, these practices and those like them in courts around the country are illegal.

A March 16, 2016, “Dear Colleague” letter from the Office for Access to Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, addressed to state and local courts lays it out:

Recent years have seen increased attention on the illegal enforcement of fines and fees in certain jurisdictions around the country—often with respect to individuals accused of misdemeanors, quasi-criminal ordinance violations, or civil infractions. Typically, courts do not sentence defendants to incarceration in these cases; monetary fines are the norm.  Yet the harm caused by unlawful practices in these jurisdictions can be profound.  Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.  Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.

This letter cites a Supreme Court ruling that the due process and equal protection principles of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit “punishing a person for his poverty” and further insists that:

The use of arrest warrants as a means of debt collection, rather than in response to public safety needs, creates unnecessary risk that individuals’ constitutional rights will be violated.  Warrants must not be issued for failure to pay without providing adequate notice to a defendant, a hearing where the defendant’s ability to pay is assessed, and other basic procedural protections.  …  When people are arrested and detained on these warrants, the result is an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty.

Somehow, the memo did not make it to Las Vegas. While the statistics are not available, during that long weekend I was not the only inmate in the Clark County jail locked up solely for not paying fines on minor offenses.

The deplorable conditions and cruelties of this jail defy exaggeration and are as extravagant as the floor shows at the city’s casinos and hotels. It was more than eight hours after getting arrested that I was finally taken out of shackles. We were packed standing room only, more than forty people in a small cell those first hours in chains.

Not long after I arrived, as a guard opened the door to push in yet another prisoner, a very slight young man edged his way to the front and tried desperately to explain that he was suffering an anxiety attack and needed air. Not listening, the guard tried to slam the door on this young man who stepped forward into the door jamb. The guard then grabbed the young man, threw him down onto the hallway floor and even though his hands were shackled at his waist and he could not hit back, at least five guards, all larger than him, all had their knees on his body and were pummeling him with their fists. The last I saw of him, his face was bloodied and he was being wheeled away, his wrists and ankles chained to a restraint chair. This was the jailers’ response to a normal human reaction to an inhuman situation and those suffering from mental illness or the effects of withdrawal were treated no less harshly.

Like some bizarre board game, we prisoners were inexplicably moved from cell to crowded cell at all hours. Sometimes a prisoner would only just arrive before their name was called for another move. Sometimes the guards went from cell to cell shouting a name of someone they had somehow misplaced. Some of our cell mates insisted that they had been in the same place for many days and worried that they had been lost as well. Guards were constantly giving contradictory and erroneous “information,” such as when we would get to court or be moved to more spacious and comfortable quarters upstairs. Some of the guards, not restrained by their own lack of credentials, were generously distributing legal advice to those preparing to see a judge. I found out later that my friends outside were likewise misled by jail employees as they tried to keep track of me.

I had arrived at the jail early on a Friday and was kept in these holding cells until Monday morning at 3 o’clock. Meals were unsatisfactory nutritionally and esthetically, but also, served as they were at 3 AM, 9AM and 3PM, did not even serve to mark the passage of time in this dungeon without windows and where the lights never dimmed. These cells varied in size and the body counts in them varied hour to hour. There were narrow benches around the walls where a few could lie down and nap, but most of us were lucky when there was room enough to stretch out without a blanket on the cold, filthy concrete floor. There was an open toilet in each cell- to use toilet paper, one had to find and wake the prisoner who had appropriated the roll for use as a pillow. In the wee hours after my third night on concrete, I was finally taken upstairs, given a change of clothes and a blanket and shown a cot in a fairly quiet and almost clean dormitory of some 80 men.

About 10 on Monday morning, I was chained up again and led through a series of tunnels and elevators to traffic court. There were some 30 of us in that batch, by no means everyone who had been jailed over the weekend for unpaid traffic charges. Each case was decided by the judge in seconds, with no defendant allowed to say anything beyond affirming their identity upon hearing their name called. Most of the fines and added fees assessed against these men and women amounted to many thousands of dollars. Based on an informal formula of dollars per days in lock up, the judge shaved off some off the fines owed and let most of the prisoners out with the threat that if the remainder was not paid in 30 days, more costs would be added, a new warrant issued and the cycle would be repeated.

This is a photo I took of the Brinks truck that they drive up to the front door of the Regional Injustice Center in Las Vegas every morning.

This is a photo I took of the Brinks truck that they drive up to the front door of the Regional Injustice Center in Las Vegas every morning.

None of us in traffic court that morning had been granted a “hearing where the defendant’s ability to pay is assessed” that the law demands before putting us in jail. Few of us, if any, had been found guilty by any judicial process before being fined in the first place. Debt collection, not guilt or innocence, was the only concern of this “court.” What happened in court that morning could be called “criminal justice” only in that what was done to us by the court was criminal. What happened to us was a shakedown by gangsters wearing police uniforms and judges’ robes, not for the sake of justice, but to maintain the civic infrastructure behind the glittering façade of Las Vegas with dollars squeezed out of its poorest citizens.

Through this experience, I met many interesting people, mostly young black and brown men. A few of them were locked up for alleged criminal offenses, but many seemed to be caught up in the same collections racket as me. The calls made from the phones in the cells were mostly frantic appeals to family and friends for money to pay the fines or the bail that would get them released. Unless they were wearing badges and carrying keys, there was no one I met at the Clark County jail that I feared as a threat to myself or to the public safety.

If the machinations of the Las Vegas Justice Court are not about justice, neither are the drones controlled from Creech Air Force Base 40 miles away about defense. By remote control and often under the shadiest of orders by the CIA, military personnel at Creech are assassinating suspected enemies far from fields of battle, based on unproven allegations or on “patterns of behavior,” often incinerating their families or the strangers unfortunate enough to be close by. It should not be surprising that a government that executes suspects, sometimes even its own citizens, without trial in places far away will also imprison its poorest people at home without due process.

Among those who stood with me in traffic court that morning, my own debt of $348 was one of the smallest and the judge summarily sentenced me to time served, crediting my four days in jail to wipe away all my fines and added costs. I was not even allowed to explain that I had never solicited a ride on a roadway in the first place. Although the judge said I was free to go, the bureaucracy of the jail took another 12 hours to get me released. It was after 10:30 Monday night that I was finally given back my clothes and sent out the long tunnel that leads from the jail to the bright lights of downtown Las Vegas, onto the sidewalk and into the embrace of faithful friends who had been keeping vigil for me the whole time of my incarceration.

I left the Clark County jail exhausted and happy to be out, but grateful, too, for the hospitality and patient endurance of those who shared their harsh, constricted space with me for a few days. It is a hard but precious privilege for this middle aged white man to visit such places where other good people have no choice but to inhabit.

The same drama is being played out in jails and courtrooms around the United States, the country that imprisons more of its people than any other. With more than 95% of criminal charges now settled with plea bargains instead of going to trial, many defendants are convicted and put away for years with not much more in the way of due process than I was afforded with my little trumped-up hitchhiking ticket.

It is unclear if what happened to me in Las Vegas Justice Court on April 4 was a conviction in the strictly legal sense, but what happened there has certainly deepened my conviction that the so-called war on terror is just one front of the vicious war on the poor and on people with black and brown skin here at home as well as abroad. This conviction will lead me back to Creech and other drone bases, to the places targeted by their Hellfire missiles when I can and, if need be, back to the Clark County Correctional Center.

Drawing on these connections, Voices for Creative Nonviolence is organizing a “NO Thomson Prison De-Incarceration Walk,” 150 miles from Chicago to Thomson, Illinois, from May 28 to June 11. Thomson is where the federal government will soon open a new “super-max” prison that is expected to keep up to 1,900 prisoners in solitary conditions that have been condemned by the international community as amounting to torture. Please join us if you can.

Brian Terrell lives in Iowa and is a Co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. In recent years he has visited Afghanistan three times and has spent more than six months in prison for protesting at drone bases. For more information email [email protected] Read other articles by Brian.

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.

An Open Letter to Las Vegas Judge Who Handcuffed A Defense Attorney in Court

Last week, I posted about a judge in Las Vegas who had ordered a public defender to be handcuffed in the courtroom during a case in which she was representing a man that the judge then sentenced to jail time. According to Judge Conrad Hafen, he did so in order to “teach her a lesson” after Zohra Bakhtary tried to continue arguing her case after he had told her to be quiet.

However, this act by the judge, not surprisingly, caused quite a bit of controversy and no small amount of criticism among other defense attorneys and legal experts. One of the more serious allegations leveled at Judge Hafen was that his actions led to her client being deprived of proper legal counsel. Others have gone as far as questioning whether this is an example of the type of mistreatment women often receive from male bosses.

Following the courtroom incident, Allison Jackson, a public defender from Fort Bend County in Texas has penned an “open letter” to Judge Hafen. This open letter was originally published at the website of the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD), an organization that represents public defenders across the country, under the title, “An Open Letter to Judge Conrad Hafen.”

In this letter, Jackson addresses the criticisms mentioned earlier, as well as bringing up past disrespectful behavior Hafen has directed at attorneys working inside his courtroom and even some previous conduct dating to before he was a judge. Based on her statements in this letter, the judge seems to have several ethical issues and hardly seems like the champion of “court decorum,” that he purports to be as his reasoning for handcuffing Bakhtary. It certainly shines a not too flattering light on the character of Judge Hafen.

An Open Letter to Judge Conrad Hafen

Dear Conrad,

Is it ok if I call you Conrad? I noticed that you refer to the attorneys appearing before you by their first names, so I thought, since we’re all officers of the court here, that it would be ok to leave off your honorifics.

Anyway, I don’t know how much you know about Ancient Roman history, but I ask for your brief indulgence. Cicero, one of antiquity’s greatest lawyers, delivered a series of public speeches deriding the cruelty and brutishness of a very powerful man, Mark Antony. Antony, unfortunately for Cicero, was still in Rome, as he had not yet started his consuming love affair with a certain Egyptian monarch. Antony ordered his men to kill Cicero and confiscate his property because he was so embarrassed about the things Cicero had said about him. Cicero knew that he would not be able to escape Antony’s men, and historians tell us that when the swordsman came across Cicero, being carried on his litter to the waterside, Cicero stretched out his neck and did not resist.

Antony took Cicero’s head and hands and nailed them to the podium at the forum, where Cicero had dared to speak against him. Those hands would write no more and that mouth would speak no more.

The funny thing is, the joke’s on Antony. Cicero’s death only emphasized that everything he said about Antony was true- he was a brute and a savage, and Cicero’s head and hands displayed grotesquely in the forum were a public testament to that every day they were on display. The people of Rome turned against Antony, and he ended up killing himself in shame after being defeated in battle by a teenager.

I was thinking about all that while I was reading about your recent decision to handcuff an attorney in your court and put her in the jury box while you berated her client. I’ve never practiced before you, but your record seems to speak for itself. You were a career prosecutor before taking the bench. While you were chief of the Public Integrity Unit (that’s sort of the blind leading the blind, eh?), you filed vague misappropriation charges against a sitting Lieutenant Governor without disclosing that your boss, the District Attorney,  and her husband were hosting fundraisers for the Lieutenant Governor’s political opponent at the same time. The charges were later dismissed by the judge, but only after nearly three years of “investigations” and court settings.

As a judge, you have a history of degrading attorneys in your courtroom, including telling male attorneys without ties that they could either put on a children’s clip-on tie provided by you or have their case put at the end of the docket or rolled to the next day.  I’m sure you thought that was a cute trick, but for a client who is missing work to make a court appearance, that isn’t funny.

And what you did to public defender Zohra Bakhtary isn’t funny, either. Reading through the transcript, the prosecutor barely says a word because he doesn’t have to. You’re better at his job than he is. Bakhtary tells the court that surely there must be some lenience for her client, and at that point you decided to put on a little show for the people in the audience. You say you’re going to go through the history of the case, aloud, so that “everybody in the courtroom knows” how much lenience you feel you’ve already provided. You’re so benevolent.

Bakhtary hadn’t been able to make a single argument. She did what I hope I would have done- try to prevent a judge who sees himself as the judicial branch of the prosecutor’s office from publically humiliating her client before imposing a sentence without listening to mitigation. But you wouldn’t stand for that.

You decided you would humiliate Bakhtary as well as her client. You looked down at the slim, polished young woman in front of you who was trying to tell you something you didn’t want to hear. She was interrupting your show. What did you think? Did you wonder how else a man like you would be able to control a woman like her?

You told the bailiff to handcuff her and forced her to sit in the jury box, silenced, while her client stood before you, next to the prosecutor and without his attorney. When you looked down at her client, was he shaking? Did you feel like a big man when you took away his rights?

Then you went on a diatribe about how he was going to be held accountable in your court. When you finished your rant, and had pronounced the maximum sentence you could, you ordered that Bakhtary should be released, and you remarked that you thought she’d “learned her lesson.”

I wonder what lesson you think that was. I can only assume that lesson you were trying to impart was that she shouldn’t provide zealous legal representation to her clients when the judge is trying to pander to an audience, or you will strip her client of his right to representation and threaten her with contempt charges and shows of physical force.

Maybe it was a broader lesson? Maybe you were thinking you’d like to discourage defenses at all. Maybe you were hoping that the media would take hold of these antics, and you would be able to discourage more bright young attorneys from devoting their lives to representing the indigent. It’s so much easier when it’s just a bunch of pushovers and cronies, isn’t it? Then the stage is all yours.

But the more judges like you do things like this, the more attention is drawn to us, the growing and increasingly united front of indigent defenders who stand up for the rights of the least of our brothers. The more this happens, the more the public gets to see how rigged people like you have made the system, and how badly things need to change.

There’s no light without heat, and these things have been in the dark for far too long.

You should know that there are legions of us, and we are stretching out our necks, waiting.

With All Due Respect,

Allison Jackson

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