Thursday, June 12, 2008

Censure Too Harsh

The Nevada Supreme Court rejected a proposed censure of a Las Vegas municipal judge as unduly harsh and directed that the judge write a letter of apology and attend (at his own expense) a class in judicial ethics. The misconduct involved a defendant who was unable to appear for a court proceeding and sent his girlfriend in his stead. The following colloquy took place:

THE CLERK: The City of Las Vegas Municipal Court is now in session. The Honorable George Assad presiding. Please be seated.

THE COURT: City versus Joshua Madera. Okay. Where is Joshua?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: He’s actually—today he started his first day at work. That’s why he’s not here today. He’s requesting if he can just have 30 days to make that payment in full.

THE COURT: Well, the problem is he threatened someone with bodily harm, essentially.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: When was this, your Honor?

THE COURT: It was Friday. He threatened her with bodily harm, one of the court clerks.


THE COURT: So unless you want to get him down here real quick, we’re going to have to lock you up until he gets here. I think he knew that, so that’s why he sent you here in his place.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I—I talked to the clerk on Friday, but I—

THE COURT: Who did you talk to?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Some lady. She said that I could come into court for him. Didn’t—she didn’t say anything about him threatening a clerk.

THE COURT: And you don’t know who you talked to?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: No. I don’t recall, your Honor. You know what? Maybe I wrote it on the paper. I’ve got Debbie, extension [ ].

THE COURT: Well Debbie’s here and she says he didn’t talk to her. So—

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay. Maybe he (indiscernible)—

THE COURT: I mean, there might be another Debbie.


THE COURT: Is there another Debbie down here?

THE CLERK: (Indiscernible).

THE COURT: All right.


THE COURT: All right. Well, you’re going to have to go with my marshal in the back and make a phone call.


THE COURT: Tell him you’re going to jail if he doesn’t get his butt down here—


THE COURT: —real fast.


            Chrzanowski [the girlfriend and unidentified speaker] followed the marshal, Raul Saavedra, to a back room, which included a desk and a phone, some seating, and two holding cells.  Chrzanowski called Madera, who could not come at that time.  Saavedra handcuffed Chrzanowski and placed her in the women’s holding cell.  Testimony at the Commission hearing indicated that this back room was quite busy during hearings, as it was used for telephone calls by defendants and others, for plea negotiations, and for arranging alternative sentencing such as work programs and house arrest.  The record further reflects that the courtroom itself was very busy, even while the court session was taking place.

The court found that the testimony of an expert on behalf of the judge was properly rejected:

Here, Professor Stempel’s affidavit, which was attached to Judge Assad’s prehearing motion and sets forth his proposed testimony, purported to evaluate the credibility of witnesses that had yet to testify (although they had given statements during the Commission’s investigation); determined based on the March 31, 2003, court session’s audiotape that Chrzanowski could not have been handcuffed in court because no “click” could be heard on the tape; weighed “evidence” that had not yet been admitted; and discussed issues that were irrelevant to those properly before the Commission, such as whether Judge Assad would have had jurisdiction to hold Chrzanowski in contempt, whether she was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by appearing on Madera’s behalf, and the dismissal of Chrzanowski’s civil lawsuit.  Credibility determinations and weighing the evidence are tasks reserved to the Commission, and expert testimony on these issues would not have assisted the Commission to understand the evidence or resolve a disputed fact. Also, as noted above, much of the affidavit concerned matters that were irrelevant to the issues before the Commission, and thus it was not admissible. Accordingly, we conclude that the Commission did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit Professor Stempel’s proposed expert testimony.

(Mike Frisch)

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Just from the facts you report, Mike, I think the judge acted outrageously and deserved more than what was given in sanction. The statement that the defendant likely knew that the girlfriend would be sent to jail also suggests that the judge knew that the girlfriend was set up and had no inkling of how she would be treated by the Court. It is an acknowledgment that she was duped and innocent. So then why take out the anger with the duper on her?

Also, what would have happened had the girlfriend been injured in confinement?

Posted by: Alan Childress | Jun 13, 2008 6:03:05 PM

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