DA’s former role as defense attorney delays criminal cases
May 17, 2012 - 5:05 pm
A fatal child abuse case was delayed again Thursday because of concerns about Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson’s former role as the defendant’s lawyer.
Henderson Justice of the Peace David Gibson Sr. postponed the case of Sidney Jacobs until June 20 to give Nevada Supreme Court justices time to rule on the same issue in another felony case.
“I want to know what they think,” the judge said.
Gibson said he will rule on the motion to disqualify the district attorney’s office in the Jacobs case if the high court does not issue a decision before the next hearing.
Because Wolfson was a highly visible defense lawyer with a large caseload, the issue “could have a devastating effect” on the district attorney’s office, Gibson said.
Records show that the issue has come up in at least seven cases since Wolfson was appointed to his new job in January. A decision by a district judge to disqualify Wolfson in one of those cases is being appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Defense attorneys in all seven cases argue that Wolfson’s prior role as the defendants’ lawyer creates a conflict of interest that should prevent the district attorney’s office from prosecuting those cases.
Representatives of the district attorney’s office, however, say Wolfson created an “ethical shield” when he took office in February to separate himself from any cases he had handled as a defense lawyer. Because of that, they argue, other attorneys in the office should be allowed to continue prosecuting those cases.
Meanwhile, relatives of Robert Martin IV, a 5-year-old boy who was fatally shot at Jacobs’ home on Sept. 25, continue to wait for justice.
So does Jacobs, 38, who is free on bond but has yet to face a preliminary hearing.
“This particular case is lingering in the Justice Court system,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Frank Coumou told Gibson.
In an interview after the hearing, defense attorney Robert Draskovich said Jacobs “wants this case to reach trial as quickly as possible.”
An 11-year-old boy shot the victim, his nephew, after finding a handgun in a cardboard box labeled “treasure chest” at Jacobs’ house. The older boy thought the gun was a toy.
Records show that Wolfson represented Jacobs from September through December.
According to an affidavit signed by Jacobs, Wolfson informed him that once he was appointed district attorney, the criminal case would be transferred to the Nevada attorney general’s office and “could no longer be handled by the Clark County district attorney.”
Coumou said the ethical shield prevented him from asking Wolfson whether he had made such a statement. Coumou also said Wolfson filed no motions on Jacobs’ behalf.
“Mr. Wolfson’s involvement, from what I can tell, has been very minimal,” Coumou said.
Coumou said he remembered receiving one call from Wolfson representing Jacobs, and the two did not discuss the merits of the case. Wolfson was expecting to be appointed district attorney and wanted to postpone Jacobs’ preliminary hearing.
“He was already thinking ahead of that possibility,” Coumou said.
In an order filed May 1, Senior District Judge J. Charles Thompson disqualified Wolfson from prosecuting a felony drunken driving case after finding “that a true and extreme conflict of interest exists” between Wolfson and the defendant, a former client.
Thompson ordered that a special prosecutor be appointed to prosecute Edris Ghani, a San Diego man accused of causing a fatal car crash near the Strip in December 2010. Christina Konarski, 21, of Las Vegas was killed.
The district attorney’s office is appealing the decision, and Thompson agreed to stay his ruling pending the appeal.
Records show that Wolfson represented Ghani between December 2010 and July, when the defendant replaced him.
According to the Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer currently serving as a public officer shall not participate in a matter “in which the lawyer participated personally and substantially while in private practice.”
In March, Wolfson provided all deputy district attorneys in the office’s criminal division with a list of 83 former clients who had cases pending in court. This list did not include the names of Jacobs or Ghani.
“I will not be speaking to attorneys representing these old clients, and I will not be speaking to any deputy district attorneys about any of these clients,” Wolfson wrote in an accompanying memo. “The purpose of this ethical shield is to prevent any accusation that there is a conflict of interest.”
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.