An outspoken defense lawyer is in trouble again in the legal profession.
District Judge Susan Johnson issued an order last month holding Jonathan MacArthur in contempt and fined him $500 for refusing to defend a client at a criminal child abuse trial.
Johnson also ordered MacArthur to pay the Clark County district attorney’s office $7,060 for the time its prosecutors spent preparing for trial. And she told MacArthur in court that she would report his conduct to the Nevada State Bar.
MacArthur, who once wrote on his MySpace page he had a hobby of “breaking my foot off in a prosecutor’s ass,” said he may ask Johnson to reconsider her order.
“I was acting in what I ethically believe to be in the best interest of my client,” MacArthur said, declining further comment.
The Bar already is considering disciplinary action against MacArthur over his conduct in another criminal case.
The district attorney’s office asked the Bar in December to investigate whether the defense lawyer tried to bribe a witness in the criminal case to change testimony. Prosecutors considered taking the allegations to a grand jury, but chose instead to let the Bar sort things out first.
Assistant State Bar Counsel Phil Pattee said a disciplinary screening panel will hear the matter soon and decide whether a complaint should be filed against MacArthur. The Bar has authority to recommend the suspension or disbarment of lawyers to the Nevada Supreme Court.
MacArthur’s MySpace comments cost him his job as a substitute judge in North Las Vegas Justice Court in 2007 after District Attorney David Roger complained about the remarks.
His actions last month caused Johnson to recommend MacArthur’s removal from the panel of lawyers paid by the county to represent indigent defendants. The defendant in the case, Melody Lynn Benham, qualified for a county-paid attorney. Had MacArthur gone to trial, he actually stood to earn more money from the county.
MacArthur was supposed to defend Benham on child abuse charges over the alleged mistreatment of her 9-month-old daughter on Sept. 19. But he told Johnson that day that he was unprepared and sought to continue the trial, court documents show.
MacArthur argued that there were unresolved plea negotiations in the case and, as a result, he did not subpoena key medical witnesses.
Johnson didn’t buy his arguments, however, and ordered the trial to proceed. MacArthur then informed Johnson that he didn’t know the whereabouts of his client, and Johnson ordered him to find her. Since the trial was not taking place in her regular courtroom, Johnson instructed MacArthur to go there to see if Benham had showed up there by mistake, court documents said.
MacArthur reported back to Johnson that Benham wasn’t in the judge’s regular courtroom, prompting the judge to call off the trial and issue a bench warrant for Benham. But toward the end of the day, the documents said, MacArthur’s office informed Johnson that Benham indeed had been sitting in the judge’s original courtroom, and asked the judge to quash the bench warrant.
Johnson reset the trial for Sept. 20; but when MacArthur showed up the next day, he again told the judge he would not participate in the trial and he understood action would be taken against him.
Johnson then held him in contempt from the bench and later formalized the sanction in her 11-page written order.
She wrote that she found that MacArthur “manufactured excuses” for not wanting to go to trial, including his contention that he had a plea offer from the district attorney’s office. Chief Deputy District attorney Mike Staudaher had denied that there was a valid offer on the table.
Johnson also said MacArthur’s antics had wasted the time of two prospective jury panels, and she ordered him removed from the case and Benham’s trial rescheduled.
The judge set an Oct. 19 hearing to see whether MacArthur complies with the contempt order.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.