Updated January 23, 2023 - 7:25 pm
Attorneys for Henry Ruggs filed court documents Monday alleging that a judge is not treating the former Raiders wide receiver the same as other defendants charged with DUI.
Ruggs, 23, faces felony DUI charges in connection with a fatal crash that occurred on Nov. 2, 2021. He is accused of driving 156 mph seconds before slamming into Tina Tintor’s car, killing the 23-year-old woman and her dog.
Las Vegas Justice Court separates DUI cases into a specialty court with one presiding judge, which has been Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman since January 2022, court records show.
The chief judge assigns other judges to specialty courts, and this month, Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure was appointed to oversee the DUI specialty court. But Zimmerman asked to continue presiding over Ruggs’ case, which was the only DUI case she retained after the routine reassignments, according to court filings from Ruggs’ defense attorneys, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld.
Chesnoff and Schonfeld filed a writ in District Court on Monday afternoon, alleging that Zimmerman “singled out” Ruggs’ case by treating him differently from other defendants and that she violated an administrative order that assigns all DUI cases not involving domestic violence to one judge.
The writ requests that a district judge rescind the most recent order assigning the case to Zimmerman and again assign the case to Bonaventure.
“Given that there are thousands of DUI cases pending, all of which were transferred to the designated DUI Department, and Mr. Ruggs’ case was singled out and illegally transferred to Judge Zimmerman, an equal protection violation has occurred,” the document states.
Zimmerman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday afternoon. Chesnoff and Schonfeld also are part of a legal team representing the Las Vegas Review-Journal in court proceedings over slain investigative reporter Jeff German’s personal devices seized by the Metropolitan Police Department.
Exhibits filed with the writ on Monday include emails between Zimmerman and Ruggs’ attorneys. In the emails, Zimmerman said she retained the case because she had made “some substantive rulings” on previous motions filed by Chesnoff and Schonfeld.
Zimmerman said the decision to retain the case was made during a brief conversation she had with Bonaventure, which lasted “maybe 30 seconds,” according to the emails. She also wrote that there was “nothing nefarious” about the decision.
“It is not uncommon or extraordinary for a judge to retain a case to finish hearing it,” she wrote in an email included with the exhibits.
Chesnoff and Schonfeld wrote in the writ that there were no motions waiting for rulings when the case was reassigned to Bonaventure. The filing also questioned the existence of a specialty court for DUI cases.
“It should be noted that the undersigned counsel has historically expressed concern regarding a judicial election process where the general public elects 15 Justices of the Peace and then the court, not the general public, assigns only one judge to hear all DUI cases,” the writ states.
The document asks to halt the criminal proceedings if a district judge cannot rule on the filing by Feb. 1, when Ruggs’ preliminary hearing is scheduled to take place. The hearing has been pushed back multiple times because of a delayed report from Metro and legal challenges, including a fight over the release of medical records related to Ruggs and his girlfriend, who police said was injured in the crash.
Prosecutors have charged Ruggs with DUI resulting in death, DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm, two counts of reckless driving resulting in death or substantial bodily harm, and a misdemeanor count of possession of a firearm while under the influence. Officials have said a loaded weapon was found in his vehicle.
A hearing on the writ is scheduled for Wednesday morning in front of District Judge Jennifer Schwartz, court records show.