Trials & Litigation

Judge says handcuffing public defender taught her a lesson about 'proper decorum' in court

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Updated: A Nevada judge says he’s been having a problem for about six months with a lawyer who regularly appears in his courtroom talking over him.

So on Monday, he had his courtroom marshal handcuff assistant public defender Zohra Bakhtary. She was then seated in the jury box alongside inmates while the judge finished hearing the case, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen then had the marshal take the handcuffs off Bakhtary, saying, “I think she’s learned a lesson.”

The incident began, according to a court transcript, when Bakhtary was arguing to try to keep a client out of jail.

Told by Hafen on Monday to “be quiet,” she kept talking.

“Zohra,” the judge said.

“You’re making—” she said.

“Do you want to be found in contempt?” the judge asked her.

“Judge, you’re asking—” she responded.

“Now. Not another word,” the judge said.

“Judge, you’re—,” said Bakhtary, who was cut off by the judge’s order to his marshal to handcuff her: “Travis, right now. I’m tired of it. Right now.”

Hafen then sentenced Bakhtary’s client to six months in jail.

Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn said this is the first time in the 12 years he has run the office that one of his lawyers has been handcuffed in court, the Review-Journal reports.

Nonetheless, he said after a private meeting with Hafen that he believed the incident had been resolved and that Bakhtary could continue working in Hafen’s courtroom without being deterred from representing her clients zealously. “She’s tenacious,” Kohn told the Review-Journal. “It’s probably why today happened.” Bakhtary did not give the newspaper a comment.

In a telephone interview with the newspaper, Hafen said that Bakhtary’s talking over him had been an issue for about six months.

“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.’ ”

The Las Vegas Review Journal later published a statement from Bakhtary in which she said Hafen did not give her a chance to argue against a jail term for her client before ordering her to be quiet.

“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,” she wrote. “The court’s constitutional duty is to listen to arguments, not silence them.”

Hafen did not comment on Bakhtary’s statement.

There was no videotape of the incident with Bakhtary. The Review-Journal reports that Hafen prefers having an official court reporter transcribe what occurs and has not used the camera system in his six years on the bench. A transcript of relevant part of the hearing is available.

Updated May 26 to include information from subsequent coverage.

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