District Court Judge Doug Smith didn’t like the way Juan Perez said “Thank you.”
So the judge locked Perez up in jail for 15 days and then raised his bail from $3,000 to $1 million.
On Tuesday, the Nevada Supreme Court rebuked Smith, ordering Perez’s bail returned to $3,000 and the case moved to another judge’s courtroom.
“The district court manifestly abused its discretion by remanding (Perez) to custody without bail for fifteen days and imposing excessive bail,” stated the Supreme Court order signed by justices Michael Cherry, James Hardesty and Ron Parraguirre.
Smith, through a court spokeswoman, said he was prohibited from commenting on a pending case.
Perez’s case dates to January 2010, when, after being treated at University Medical Center after a car crash, nurses discovered he had two baggies containing more than 20 grams of cocaine.
He was charged with trafficking cocaine. Perez posted $3,000 bail and was released from jail. He hired veteran defense lawyer John Momet.
Nearly three years after Perez’s arrest, Momet withdrew as his lawyer.
On Jan. 16, Perez appeared before Smith.
According to court documents filed by the public defender’s office, 55 words were exchanged between the judge and defendant.
It ended with Smith tossing Perez in jail for more than two weeks.
Smith uses video recording in his courtroom. However, the judge, through a court spokeswoman, refused to release the recording of the Jan. 16 hearing when requested by the Review-Journal on Friday.
A request with the Eighth Judicial District Court under the state open records law is pending.
A transcript of the hearing recounts the following exchange:
Smith: “Your attorney has withdrawn. How come you haven’t stayed in contact with your attorney?”
Perez: Not helping me.
Smith: No, he withdrew.
Perez: Okay. I’ll have to get another lawyer.
Perez: I’ll have to get another lawyer.
Smith: Well, good, we’ll find you one.
Perez: Thank you.
Smith: You’re remanded. Thank you. An attitude like that, you can sit in jail.
Smith appointed the public defender’s office to represent Perez.
At a Jan. 30 hearing in the case, Smith described Perez as having a “terrible, terrible attitude in court.”
Perez apologized to Smith and asked to be released on the original $3,000 bail, which had been approved by a Las Vegas justice of the peace in the lower court. Standard bail for a drug trafficking count is $10,000.
Perez’s lawyer argued that he had shown up for all of his scheduled court appearances and was not a threat to the community.
Smith said that Perez uses myriad names and Social Security numbers, has a history of drug trafficking convictions and a “six-foot (long) SCOPE” — or criminal history report.
Smith relented and agreed to set bail.
“You’re not going to like it,” he warned, and then set bail at $1 million.
At a Feb. 6 hearing, Perez’s lawyer asked Smith to stay his case while Smith’s bail decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.
“Make sure you include his attitude in court in your writ,” Smith replied.
The high court found that Smith had violated Perez’s constitutional rights and abused his discretion “by remanding (Perez) to custody and setting bail at an excessive amount in order to punish him for having an ‘attitude’ during a court proceeding.”
The justices ordered bail set at $3,000 and the case reassigned to Judge Abbi Silver.
Records show Perez posted the $3,000 bail and was released from jail after the high court’s ruling.
Meanwhile, prosecutors on Wednesday filed notice they will seek habitual criminal status for Perez.
Court documents show Perez has a history of run-ins with Las Vegas law enforcement, including three separate felony convictions for drug trafficking since 1989.
If convicted and deemed a habitual criminal, Perez could face a life prison term.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.