Trials & Litigation

Public defender handcuffed in court at judge's order says she was just doing her job

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An assistant public defender put in handcuffs in a Nevada courtroom on Monday says she was just doing her job and attempting to represent her client when the presiding judge ordered his marshal to restrain her.

Earlier, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen told the Las Vegas-Review Journal that he was trying to teach attorney Zohra Bakhtary a lesson about “proper decorum” by having her sit handcuffed, next to inmates in jail garb in the jury box, because she kept talking over him.

But in a later interview with the newspaper Bakhtary says she never got a chance to present her client’s side of the case before the cuffs went on, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

“I was not trying to argue with the court,” she told the newspaper. “I was just trying to calm the situation down. I was never allowed to speak.”

In a written statement, Bakhtary 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.”

Clark County’s public defender, Phil Kohn, and Bakhtary’s direct supervisor both praised her work ethic and preparation and said they had never received any prior complaint about her, including from Hafen. Bakhtary regularly appears before six judges, including Hafen, in various courtrooms, the newspaper reports.

“Categorically, I’ve never received informal or formal complaint about her ever from any judge—from anyone,” Kohn said. “She’s a professional lawyer. It’s what I want in public defenders, and it’s certainly what our clients deserve.”

The article doesn’t include any new comment by the judge in response to what Bakhtary and those in charge of her work said.

A transcript of the Monday court hearing shows that Hafen ordered Bakhtary handcuffed as he began to describe to the courtroom audience why her client was being required to serve a six-month jail term that had initially been suspended, in a petit larceny case, after completing alternative requirements of taking a class and community service, albeit a bit belatedly.

When Bakhtary several times interjected a phrase, despite Hafen’s repeated orders not to say anything, in an apparent effort to be heard, the judge had her handcuffed.

Not until the sentencing was complete, two pages later, did Hafen order the cuffs removed from Bakhtary.

Related coverage: “Judge says handcuffing public defender taught her a lesson about ‘proper decorum’ in court”

See also:

Las Vegas Sun (2004): “Kohn, new public defender, promises changes”

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