Contempt finding thrown out in defense lawyer handcuff case

LAS VEGAS (AP) " A deputy public defender was cleared Tuesday by a Nevada state court judge of a contempt-of-court finding by a Las Vegas judge who ordered her handcuffed and then sentenced her client to jail for petty theft.

The deputy Clark County public defender, Zohra Bakhtary, said she felt vindicated by the ruling that undid the May 23 misdemeanor contempt finding by Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen.

Bakhtary's attorney, Dominic Gentile, said Bakhtary was only doing her job and advocating for her client's best interest.

"It's not an easy job, because there are times when you have to stand up to a judge," Gentile said. "Zohra did a great service to the reputation and respect in which the public defender should be held, but often isn't."

Hafen and his attorney didn't immediately respond to messages. He can appeal Clark County District Court Judge Gloria Sturman's ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court, but it wasn't clear if he will.

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.

Bakhtary said she wanted the judge to consider not jailing her client, whom Hafen went on to sentence to six months in jail while Bakhtary was handcuffed.

The man's conviction was thrown out and his sentence cut short July 14 after a judge ruled that he wasn't represented by a lawyer when he was sentenced.

"This act of physical restraint did not diminish my passion and devotion to continue to represent the indigent," said Bahktary, who has been an attorney since October 2011 and a deputy public defender for three years. The office serves defendants who are unable or can't afford to hire their own attorney.

Hafen's decision to have Bakhtary handcuffed 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 an investigation by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline.

The complaint, accusing Hafen of violating judicial rules of conduct, remains open.

Hafen, a former prosecutor in the Nevada state attorney general's office, was elected to a six-year term in 2010. 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.

Hafen lost a bid for re-election in June, just weeks after the handcuffing incident. His term expires at the end of the year.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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