On Monday, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen ordered Deputy Public Defender Zohra Bakhtary to be handcuffed and placed within the area where defendants that are in custody normally are seated in the Las Vegas Justice Court. According to the judge she had violated “courtroom decorum” by speaking after he had told her to “be quiet.” (Transcript included below.)
“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.’ ”
However, according to Bakhtary, she was simply trying to properly defend her client and the judge wouldn’t listen to her argument. (Once again, via the Las Vegas Review Journal.)
“It all happened so fast,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday, a day after Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen ordered her placed into custody.
She was left to sit silently, alongside inmates, while her client was sent to jail for six months.
Moments earlier, Hafen told Zohra Bakhtary to “be quiet,” as she tried to argue that a man facing larceny charges should not be thrown behind bars. After Bakhtary tried to speak, the judge asked her if she wanted to be found in contempt.
“I was not trying to argue with the court,” Bakhtary said. “I was just trying to calm the situation down. I was never allowed to speak. I was never given the opportunity to respond to his question. Had I been given the chance to actually respond, it would have been, ‘Absolutely not…’”
“Every day I zealously represent my clients,” Bakhtary wrote in a statement to the newspaper. “Every individual who goes through our criminal justice system has a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. It is a frightening day when a lawyer is locked up for fighting on behalf of her clients and their rights. That is precisely what I was doing, my job. I was placed in handcuffs for attempting to speak on behalf of my client … I have a great deal of respect for our judiciary. 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. The Court’s constitutional duty is to listen to arguments, not silence them.”