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Las Vegas judge who oversaw Binion, Dozier cases to retire

Updated December 27, 2018 - 6:19 pm

Las Vegas Judge Jennifer Togliatti, whose career included prosecuting misdemeanors and murders and overseeing some of the most high-profile cases from the bench, is expected to hear her last calendar of cases Friday.

At 51, she will not stray from the bench completely. Togliatti plans to work part time under the Eighth Judicial District Court’s senior judge program and oversee settlement conferences in civil litigation.

“After 20 years on the bench, I’m ready to do something different,” Togliatti, one of four judges assigned to oversee all of the county’s homicide cases, said in a recent interview with the Review-Journal. “I’m just ready to let somebody else take some of this big responsibility.”

Since announcing her retirement last month, Togliatti, who has served as chief judge of both the Las Vegas Justice Court and the Clark County District Court, was tapped as a mediator to help facilitate negotiations in federal litigation over the Oct. 1, 2017, Route 91 Harvest festival shooting.

Her role as a judge in some of Clark County’s most serious felony cases offered the public a window into her courtroom, but her experience in mediation, mostly done behind closed doors, did not go unnoticed.

Four years ago, she helped attorneys in a massive construction defect case involving CityCenter’s now-demolished Harmon Hotel reach a global settlement on the heels of a trial anticipated to last more than a year.

District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez called Togliatti “a miracle worker” for facilitating the resolution.

In a recent interview, Togliatti called the 18-month negotiation “a complete emotional roller coaster” and “as complex as you can possibly imagine.”

Moving up quickly

Togliatti earned her law degree from California Western School of Law in San Diego in 1993 and started as a law clerk with the appellate division of the Clark County District Attorney’s Office before being admitted to the bar.

Early in her career as a prosecutor, the roller coaster wasn’t as steep, as she recalled once prosecuting someone for fishing with two poles.

But Togliatti quickly rose through the ranks at the district attorney’s office, prosecuting child abusers and murderers along the way. Togliatti worked as a prosecutor under former Clark County District Attorney Stewart Bell, also a retired District Court judge.

“Jennifer was terrific,” said Bell, who now works as a mediator. “Because of her outstanding trial work and just overall talent, she moved quickly through the DA’s office. Everybody who knows Jen has the utmost respect for her.”

In 1998, the Nevada chapter of the National Organization of Women presented her with the 1998 Equality Now Award. That year, she also was elected to serve as Las Vegas justice of the peace.

In that role, she oversaw a preliminary hearing in the death of casino executive Ted Binion, whose stripper girlfriend, Sandy Murphy, and her lover, Rick Tabish, were charged with murder.

She also worked as an acting federal magistrate for U.S. District Court before former Gov. Kenny Guinn appointed her to the District Court in 2002.

Five years later, she oversaw the trial of Scott Dozier, who was convicted of his second murder and sentenced to die. Dozier’s case has drawn national attention since 2016, when he asked that his death sentence be carried out.

Late last year, Togliatti ruled that the prison system could not perform lethal injection using a paralytic drug, which a doctor testified could potentially mask suffering.

When the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that decision, Togliatti signed Dozier’s execution warrant once again. It is the only case she has handled in which a jury delivered the ultimate punishment.

As a judge she is restricted from discussing the case, but of signing a death warrant for a man she had interacted with repeatedly in her courtroom, she said: “It’s definitely a surreal experience.”

Next steps

Now, upon leaving her 10th floor chambers at the Regional Justice Center, Togliatti said she plans to spend more time with her three children and husband, while devoting more attention to sharpening her tennis game.

In the courtroom and on the court, she tries not to labor over a decision already made.

“Next point, next case,” she said. “You make your decision, you go to the next case.”

She expects her mediation work to reflect that mantra.

“If one side leaves unhappy, that’s a good day,” she said. “If both sides leave unhappy, that’s a regular day, especially in civil litigation … As long as you’re fair to people, and they don’t think you’ve prejudged their case or them or made a decision based on who the players are or your ideology, then that’s what they want.”

Elana Graham, recently elected to serve as a Las Vegas justice of the peace, worked as a UNLV extern for Togliatti in 2009 and as the judge’s clerk in 2010-11.

Graham described Togliatti as having an “intense” presence in court and in chambers, while also treating those who appeared before her fairly.

“She’s inspiring,” said Graham, who takes the bench next month. “So as far as the decision I made to run for judge, because I had her influence, that played a big role. She sets an example for women who work that you can be successful with your career but also maintain your priorities in life.”

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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