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District judge again moves Henry Ruggs’ DUI case

Updated March 13, 2023 - 8:18 pm

A Las Vegas judge ordered former Raiders player Henry Ruggs’ fatal DUI case to move back to Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure’s courtroom, when defense attorneys are expected to ask the judge to more thoroughly explain why he can’t oversee the proceedings.

Defense attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld filed a petition last week asking District Judge Jennifer Schwartz to move the case to Bonaventure’s courtroom. In court on Monday, Schwartz said she would order the case back to Bonaventure for a follow-up hearing, but said he would not be ordered to preside over the case indefinitely.

“I’m not going to force Judge Bonaventure to keep the case if he doesn’t think that he should,” Schwartz said.

Bonaventure recused himself last month after stating he was concerned about presiding over the case because of comments he made about the proceedings while running for office. He had previously overseen Ruggs’ initial court appearance, during which he set a $150,000 bail for Ruggs.

Following Monday’s hearing, Chesnoff and Schonfeld said they expect to ask Bonaventure to further explain why he recused himself. They have argued that a judge needs to show why comments made about a case would commit the judge to a position during proceedings.

Ruggs is facing charges of DUI, reckless driving and possession of a firearm while under the influence in connection with a fiery November 2021 crash that killed 23-year-old Tina Tintor. He is accused of driving up to 156 mph down a residential street seconds before the fatal crash. Prosecutors have said that after the crash his blood alcohol level was 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit for drivers in Nevada.

The case has bounced between different judges in the Las Vegas Justice Court in recent weeks. It was previously overseen by Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman, who presided over the DUI specialty court. Defense attorneys then argued Ruggs was “singled out” when Zimmerman moved to continue overseeing the case in January, even though Bonaventure took over the specialty court during routine judicial reassignments.

Schwartz previously ordered the case to be moved to Bonaventure’s department, and noted in a court order that Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia should oversee the case if there was not a DUI specialty court to preside over it. Letizia has ruled that she did not have jurisdiction to grant a motion to move the case back to Bonaventure’s department.

Defense attorneys also asked Schwartz to order lower court judges not to discuss the case without Ruggs’ defense attorneys present. They had argued that Bonaventure should not have met with Chief Justice of the Peace Cynthia Cruz and agreed to take on the case if he intended to recuse himself.

Schwartz on Monday declined to make the order, and said she didn’t believe the meeting qualified as ex parte communication because judges are allowed to discuss cases with other judges.

She also stated that if Bonaventure again recuses himself, she’s not going to decide if his explanation is a “more thorough record” of his reasons.

“That’s certainly not for me to decide,” she said. “But maybe after communications are had with all parties, they’re going to agree that probably Judge Bonaventure shouldn’t be hearing this case as well.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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