A State Bar of Nevada disciplinary hearing got underway Thursday over allegations of professional misconduct against outspoken lawyer Jacob Hafter.
In nearly five hours of arguments and testimony, the former judicial candidate was combative and highly critical of the process that resulted in a two-count bar complaint against him in April.
The complaint alleges Hafter made improper inflammatory statements on his Facebook page and in the Las Vegas Review-Journal against then-District Judge Valorie Vega, who was presiding over a medical malpractice case he was defending.
It also accuses him of fraudulent conduct and making misrepresentations in Nevada legal proceedings to evade a $137,000 judgment against his law firm in Arizona.
In her opening statement, Assistant Bar Counsel Janeen Isaacson told a three-member disciplinary panel that Hafter “repeatedly failed to live up to his ethical obligations” as a lawyer.
She said his conduct harmed his client, the State Bar and the entire legal system.
Hafter, an orthodox Jew, accused Vega on his Facebook page in 2014 of religious discrimination and suggested she was “anti-Semitic or racist.” The Review-Journal quoted him as saying, “Either she’s anti-Semitic or she’s biased against me. In either case, she shouldn’t be the judge in this case.”
At the time, Vega was presiding over the medical malpractice case and refused to alter the trial’s schedule to accommodate a Jewish holiday. Hafter at the time was running for a seat on the District Court bench.
In his opening statement, Hafter accused the State Bar of deliberately failing to settle the disciplinary case and coming at him with “unprecedented vigor” for being an outspoken member of the bar.
“What Judge Vega did to me was … put me in a position where I had to balance my religious observance with participation in a public program – the same program through which I make my living – our court system. And no one cared.
“… So I went and expressed my shock at such a callous decision in a public forum – something I have the right to do under the First Amendment, as well.”
Las Vegas attorney Peter Wetherall, who filed the malpractice lawsuit, testified that he was concerned about the prejudicial effect of Hafter’s comments about Vega on the upcoming trial in 2014. He said he filed a grievance against Hafter with the State Bar.
The jury, however, ended up not being tainted, and Wetherall won a $9.5 million verdict against Hafter’s client.
Another lawyer, Lisa Zastrow, testified that Hafter repeatedly dodged questions in legal proceedings about his assets and tried to obstruct her efforts to obtain the Arizona monetary judgment from him.
She described his conduct as “absurd” and “maddening” and told the bar panel that she didn’t want to be there testifying because she has been harassed and publicly attacked by Hafter since she took the case to obtain the judgment.
Zastrow said she also filed a grievance with the bar against Hafter on behalf of her Arizona client.
Eventually, Hafter settled with Zastrow after he won a big legal case and paid her client $200,000, Hafter said.
At the end of the day, Hafter argued that the bar had not presented “clear and convincing evidence” to prove its allegations. He is to testify on Friday.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.