District Judge Kathleen Delaney on Wednesday defended her decision to ignore a recommendation of probation for a repeat sex offender and sentence him to a maximum 16- to 40-year prison term, court papers show.
And Delaney rebutted an accusation that the sentence was influenced by her relationship with a television news reporter, who also interned for the judge while attending law school.
In a seven-page affidavit, the judge said the sentence she handed down for defendant Paul Santiago was “the product, and only the product, of my thorough and thoughtful review of the entire record of the subject case.”
Last week, Santiago and his lawyer, Robert Draskovich, asked the judge to recuse herself from the case because she inappropriately disregarded a plea deal with prosecutors that set a stipulated sentence of probation for two counts of attempted sexual assault.
Draskovich argued that according to case law Delaney should have allowed Santiago to withdraw his guilty plea and stand trial, which she did not.
Also causing Draskovich “grave concern” was Delaney’s relationship with KLAS-TV, Channel 8, reporter Colleen McCarty, who covered Santiago’s May 22 sentencing hearing.
In April, McCarty completed an externship, a short internship worth four credits, under Delaney through Boyd Law School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Santiago was charged five years ago with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in 2004. The case garnered no media coverage until September, when McCarty picked up the story, Draskovich said. Her externship began in late January.
Delaney said the “unfounded and unsupported allegation that press coverage played any role in my handling of the subject case” was egregious.
The judge said McCarty was not involved with Santiago’s case in any way and did not report on any stories in the District Court while working for the her.
The judge added that the guilty plea agreement Santiago signed, which included the probation recommendation, was not binding and that she canvassed both the defendant and his lawyer so they understood she was the final arbiter on his sentence.
Citing a recent Nevada Supreme Court decision, Delaney noted that the state’s high court and the Legislature had both rejected the notion that a judge must afford a defendant the opportunity to withdraw his plea if the judge won’t follow a recommended sentence.
Chief Judge Jennifer Togliatti will hear Santiago’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea June 27.
Santiago, who is in High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, is awaiting a July 9 sentencing hearing for a separate criminal case stemming from allegations he inappropriately touched women while working at a blood testing laboratory in 2012.
In April, he pleaded guilty to a charge of open and gross lewdness, a misdemeanor, in that case.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.