Have You Heard of Former Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen?
Conrad Hafen was raised in Roy, Utah. He served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, then attended Weber State University where he graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. He was accepted into Brigham Young University’s Public Administration Masters Program. In 1985, he enrolled in the University of Idaho School of Law, graduating in 1988.
After law clerking and working as an associate attorney with a private law firm concentrating in insurance defense and products liability, Conrad Hafen accepted a position with the Humboldt County Nevada District Attorney’s Office. Within several months, he was promoted to Chief Deputy District Attorney and served in that capacity for 10 years.
Hafen lost a race for district judge in 2006, and when the Las Vegas Justice Court Department was looking for a judge for one of its specialty courts, Hafen threw his hat in the ring. During his campaign, Hafen said, “When people come before me … they’ll know my decision is based on the law and is a fair and just resolution.”
Saying what citizens want to hear, in 2010, Hafen was elected as a Justice of the peace in Nevada. Those judges hear misdemeanor cases and hold preliminary hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to move felony cases to state courts for trial.
Hafen’s career in the Nevada judicial system has now involuntarily ended and he is back in Utah. This is how it happened …
Zohra Bakhtary is a deputy public defender, and while advocating for one of her clients, Judge Hafen did not want her to speak. He had Bakhtary handcuffed and seated with inmates who were awaiting their hearings. After Hafen sentenced Bakhtary’s client, Daniel Fernandez, to six months in jail, he had court security remove her handcuffs and said, “I think she’s learned a lesson.”
District Judge Rob Bare released Fernandez and the petty theft conviction was later thrown out after a ruling that Fernandez was deprived of assistance of a lawyer when he was sentenced.
After reviewing Hafen’s handling of the case, Judge Bare noted that Hafen directly addressed the defendant while Deputy Public Defender Zohra Bakhtary was handcuffed and silenced. The Review Journal reports:
“A lot of meaningful things were covered that, respectfully, a lawyer could potentially weigh in on,” Bare said. “But even if the lawyer chose not to weigh in, it troubles me that a judge would speak directly to a now-unrepresented client in this regard.”
Hafen did not discriminate when he wielded findings of contempt. Montreal Carter arrived to Hafen’s court on trespassing charges and was told he didn’t qualify for a public defender. When Carter asked for additional time to hire an attorney, Hafen denied his request. That forced Carter to act in his own defense. When he referenced the 14th amendment, Hafen cut him off saying the argument was “irrelevant”. Hafen sentenced Carter to 10 days in jail for contempt, but later revised that excessive sentence.
The Guardian reports that 150 defense attorneys filed ethics complaint against Hafen, alleging he has “complete disregard for law” when putting lawyers and defendants in custody for contempt without due process.
The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline filed a complaint of four incidents involving Hafen that took place between December 2014 and May 2016.
On March 1, 2017, The Seattle Times reported that the Nevada Supreme Court ordered the banning of Hafen from serving as a judge in Nevada – for life.
Hafen was following suit of other judges in silencing women lawyers, and particularly women of color, with demeaning court actions. In Washington, D.C., Liyah Brown, a black defense attorney was searched and detained in 2007 for vociferously defending her client, a homeless man.
In Ohio, defense lawyer Andrea Burton was handcuffed, removed from the courtroom, and sentenced to 5 days in jail for refusing Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich’s order that she remove a Black Lives Matter pin she wore to court. After 5 hours with the NAACP intervening, Burton was released pending appeal.
In September 2016, Clark County Nevada District Court Judge Douglas Herndon ordered criminal defense attorney Erika Ballou to remove her “Black Lives Matter” button while in his courtroom.