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Censure for judge too harsh

There is "clear and convincing evidence" that a Las Vegas municipal judge violated standards of judicial conduct in 2003, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled, but the punishment issued — public censure — was too harsh.

Instead, justices said in a ruling released Thursday, Judge George Assad must apologize to a woman he ordered locked up at traffic court for two hours, and pay for and attend a class on judicial ethics.

"The violations … are supported by clear and convincing evidence," the ruling states. However, "a censure, which is one of the most serious penalties for nonwillful conduct, is too extreme in this instance."

Assad didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The case dates back to 2003 and involves a couple of instances of apparent misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Josh Madera had unpaid parking tickets in March 2003 but was starting a new job the day of his court appearance. He called to ask for a later date; but he was informed by a clerk that, because he was late with the fine, he couldn’t reschedule over the phone.

"The conversation’s tone deteriorated," notes the ruling, and Madera "told the clerk that he ‘knew someone in Metro.’ " Madera later said he only meant he could find out how to complain about the clerk; the clerk took it as a threat, however, and noted it in his file.

Madera’s girlfriend, Ann Chrzanowski, said she was told by a different clerk that she could appear on his behalf, which is what she did. That situation deteriorated as well, when Assad brought up the alleged threat.

"Unless you want to get him down here real quick, we’re going to have to lock you up until he gets here," Assad told Chrzanowski. "I think he knew that, so that’s why he sent you here in his place."

Assad ordered Chrzanowski go with a city marshal, and added, "Tell him you’re going to jail if he doesn’t get his butt down here real fast."

A marshal ended up fetching Madera, since the couple had only one car and Chrzanowski was using it. In the meantime, she was handcuffed and placed in a holding cell until Madera arrived and made payment arrangements.

Assad later said he didn’t mean for a marshal to hold the woman in a cell. The marshal, however, testified that he thought he’d been instructed to hold Chrzanowski until her boyfriend arrived.

Justices said the language Assad used supports that interpretation and his actions run afoul of a rule that requires judges to act so that the public has confidence in judges.

"Judge Assad admitted that he had no legal authority to detain Chrzanowski based on Madera’s failure to appear," the ruling says. "Judge Assad knew that his threat to her did not ‘comply with the law,’ it did not show respect for the law, and it did not promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity."

Still, the punishment meted out by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline after Chrzanowski filed a complaint went too far, justices said.

Assad was a new judge, and no other misconduct is on his record before or since the incident, the ruling notes. It also says the incident was "nonwillful," in that it resulted from a misunderstanding between Assad and the marshal.

Assad was appointed to Municipal Court in 2002. His term extends through 2011.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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