A Laughlin judge won’t remove himself from a lewdness case against a Metropolitan Police Department officer, even though lawyers on both sides of the case say the two men are longtime friends.
Christopher Peto, 47, was arrested last month on charges of engaging in sex acts for the past two years with at least two girls in the Laughlin area. He is scheduled to appear before Justice of the Peace Tim Atkins next week.
“Based upon this apparent conflict, we contacted Judge Atkins and informed him that we believed he should voluntarily recuse himself,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Lisa Luzaich wrote in a court brief this week. “Judge Atkins refused to do so.”
Defense attorney Josh Tomsheck, who represents the 20-year veteran of the Police Department, signed a similar affidavit.
“Peto has an established relationship with Judge Atkins that extends beyond the capacity of a professional relationship,” Tomsheck’s declaration stated. “Specifically, Peto and Judge Atkins see each other socially and are members of the same golfing foursome that plays together several times a month.”
Tomsheck added that the relationship between the judge and officer “creates an actual or implied conflict, making it impossible for Judge Atkins to fairly preside over this matter without the appearance of impropriety and unbiased judgement.”
In a motion to pull the judge from the case, Luzaich cited the Nevada Canons of Judicial Conduct and state law.
“A judge shall not act as such in an action or proceeding when the judge entertains actual bias or prejudice for or against one of the parties to the action,” state law reads.
Atkins has five days to challenge the requests from the attorneys, according to the canons. Attempts to reach the judge by phone on Friday were unsuccessful.
Peto, who started with Metro in 1999, was relieved of duty without pay after his arrest, according to Metro officials.
Detectives reported that Peto “encountered these girls at the Laughlin Jr./Sr. High School and during calls for service.”
Peto faces charges of lewdness with a child who is 14 or 15 by a person 18 or older, child abuse or neglect, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, three counts of soliciting a child for prostitution, and five counts of lewdness with a child under 14, Clark County Detention Center records show. He has been held at the jail since his arrest.
Tomsheck told a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter in a text message on Friday that Peto “looks forward to addressing the allegations against him through the criminal justice system.”
“We believe that allegations such as these should be addressed in an unbiased forum, free from either an actual or implied bias,” the lawyer wrote. “Certainly no party to this action is insinuating that the court has, or would, intentionally do anything improper. However, to avoid any appearance of impropriety and ensure that the court system operates efficiently and fairly as intended, we are in agreement that recusal is warranted.”