April 27, 2016 - 6:42 am
“Las Vegas Law,” a TV reality show about the Clark County district attorney’s office nearly two years in the works, is scheduled to air next month.
Camera crews have for months followed prosecutors and defense lawyers around the Regional Justice Center, sometimes drawing criticism for their coverage. In a town that seems to host as many reality shows as poker games, the latest production is touted as offering a glimpse into the minds of prosecutors, with emphasis on the drama.
A 43-minute debut episode titled “The Evil Men Do” and delivered to local media this week opens with a male voice over: “Vegas. It’s exotic, exciting, excessive.”
Courtroom drama flashes between shots of crime scene surveillance footage and the neon lights of Sin City.
The county’s top prosecutor is shown driving a car. Flash-cut to another clip, and he looks straight and stern into the camera.
“I’m Steve Wolfson,” he says. “I’m the district attorney here in Las Vegas. What happens here, stays here — unless you gamble with crime.”
Intro music speeds up as courtroom tension intensifies.
“You’re derailing this trial with your mouth,” District Judge Jennifer Togliatti shouts.
Victims cry, defendants smirk and the show’s logo is emblazoned over an aerial shot of the Strip.
“I’m not afraid of the cameras seeing what we do,” Wolfson continues. “Get ready for trial.”
The six-episode “docudrama,” previously titled “Las Vegas D.A.,” is set to premiere May 12 on the Investigation Discovery cable channel. The footage was shot in “cinéma vérité,” according to a news release. In other words, camera crews followed prosecutors and defense lawyers around the courthouse without using a script or directorial control.
Discovery touts “exclusive access to District Attorney Steve Wolfson and his powerhouse team of prosecutors who work tirelessly alongside law enforcement officials to pursue justice in their community.”
That access has drawn some criticism around the Regional Justice Center, as crews carrying both video and still cameras, tripods and long boom mics followed prosecutors and set up in courtroom areas where other media are not allowed.
Public defender Phil Kohn has not seen the show, and says he’ll have someone from his office review the first episode before he watches. Prosecutors have pushed some cases to trial so the camera crews could capture more footage, he said.
“We believe that cases that would have been negotiated were not negotiated because of the cameras,” Kohn said. “This office is not going to cooperate (with the show) in the future because I’m very concenred that this TV show not interfere with the administration of justice.”
A promotional clip for the show starts with this line: “People think there are no rules in Vegas — until they meet these DAs.”
In a phone interview with the Review-Journal, Wolfson says he’s “excited and proud of the project” but declined to discuss any scenes in the premiere, which captures portions of two trials and backroom meetings between Wolfson and his staff.
Sometime before the show airs, however, he and others involved in the project are expected to attend an invitation-only screening and talk about how it came together, said Discovery spokeswoman Charlotte Fletcher.
That leaves a few weeks to clean up minor glitches, such as the mis-identification of a homicide detective in one early scene.
The first trial depicted in the show is that of infamous pimp and Strip killer Ammar Harris, which Wolfson calls a “most important case.” Las Vegas Law cuts the case into snippets while explaining, as thoroughly as possible, the two week trial in which Harris was convicted and sent to death row in the February 2013 shooting and fiery explosion that left three people dead.
There’s a short clip in a darkened room in which prosecutors discuss strategy in the case, but the two who handled the trial, Pamela Weckerly and David Stanton, were not in the meeting.
In another scene, Wolfson meets with Stanton and Weckerly in Stanton’s office.
The second case featured is that of James Brian Goins, a former massage therapist, who faced trial for groping female patients. That case came to an abrupt halt after a detective twice offered an unsolicited opinion about one of the victims in the case and said “there was no crime.”
Prosecutors Leah Beverly and Bernie Zadrowski are shown rushing out of the courtroom.
“What the f—-?” Beverly says off-camera. “We told him he couldn’t say that.”
Zadrowski responds: “Yeah. Okay, I don’t want to draw any more attention to it.”
In the next scene, Las Vegas Law’s microphones pick up a conversation between Zadrowski and defense lawyer Michael Becker that even a reporter sitting just a few feet away could not hear.
Zadrowski whispers to Becker: “I’m not asking yet. I’m not offering yet. Would you consider a deal at this point?”
“I would …” Becker responds.
In a behind-the-scenes moment that might intrigue those fascinated with criminal cases, Zadrowski and Beverly are shown rushing to the office of high-ranking prosecutor Robert Daskas to lay out their plan to make Goins an offer.
Later, Zadrowski and Beverly are seen in Wolfson’s office.
“In a situation like this,” he tells them, “you take it and run … Good job.”
The show closes with Wolfson and Daskas discussing the death penalty verdict for Ammar Harris.
“It really sends a message that we are a safe community and when people like Mr. Harris commit serious crimes, they’re going to receive Las Vegas justice,” Wolfson says. “So our office has a lot to be proud of.”
Contact David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Find @randompoker on Twitter.