LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former Las Vegas justice of the peace has been barred for life from the court bench in Nevada as punishment for a series of courtroom confrontations, including ordering a defense attorney to be handcuffed when she wouldn’t stop arguing to keep a client out of jail.
Conrad Hafen agreed Feb. 4 not to contest censure by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline for four incidents between December 2014 and last May, when he had Deputy Clark County Public Defender Zohra Bakhtary detained on a misdemeanor contempt finding.
The Nevada Supreme Court posted the order Monday.
Banishing a judge is rare in Nevada. However, the commission also acted a year ago to prohibit a former Las Vegas-area family court judge from ever returning to the bench after he was convicted and imprisoned in a federal fraud case.
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Hafen’s law license in Nevada was unaffected by the judicial commission action
Hafen, who lost a bid for re-election in June and now lives in Highland, Utah, represented himself before the disciplinary commission. Attempts to reach him Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Bakhtary said she respected the ruling. She declined additional comment.
Attorney Dominic Gentile represented Bakhtary when she was cleared by a Nevada state court judge last August of the contempt-of-court finding. Gentile said Bakhtary was only advocating for her client’s best interest. The public defender represents people who are unable or can’t afford to hire their own lawyer.
Gentile said Tuesday it appeared Hafen had trouble switching from advocacy as a lead prosecutor in the Nevada state attorney general’s office to a judicial role after he was elected to a six-year term on the court in 2010.
A court transcript showed Bakhtary kept talking and that Hafen warned her several times that she faced being held in contempt for interrupting while he tried to rule.
Hafen said at the time that he ordered Bakhtary taken into custody because she wouldn’t stop arguing, and he wanted to teach her a lesson about courtroom decorum and etiquette.
“I think it’s unfortunate, because he’s a good lawyer and he was a really good advocate,” Gentile said of Hafen, with and against whom Gentile worked. “But he pretty clearly had difficulty in the role of a judge.”
Justices of the peace in Nevada hear misdemeanor cases and hold preliminary hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to move felony cases to state courts for trial.
Bakhtary’s client’s petty theft conviction and was thrown out and his sentence cut short in July after a judge ruled that he hadn’t been represented by a lawyer when he was sentenced.
Handcuffing Bakhtary drew a public protest from board members of the 105-member Clark County Defenders Union, and prompted the 150-member Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice to seek sanctions from the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline.
Three of the four courtroom confrontations cited in the commission order involved Bakhtary.
In each case, Hafen failed to file written contempt-of-court findings.