If her killer had been kept in jail, Tamequa Williams would be alive today, the judge who handled the case says, and he would have been, had the county cared enough to prosecute.
Williams, 31, was shot to death in late April by her boyfriend, Nahshun Lomax, 35, who then turned the gun on himself. Just three days earlier he had been released from jail, facing no charges after being arrested for earlier assaulting Williams, as well as other violent crimes.
North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Stephen Dahl says all such deaths are tragic, but in this instance, the loss of life was wholly preventable.
Dahl said 20 percent of people arrested for felonies and gross misdemeanors in North Las Vegas escape prosecution for want of a deputy district attorney to pursue the case.
“We dismiss a lot of cases,” he said, and the price is paid by people such as Williams.
Staffing at the North Las Vegas courthouse has been a bone of contention for at least a year but it came to head Friday when Dahl convened an unusual special hearing to give District Attorney David Roger a piece of his mind.
“It’s like mediocrity is the new excellence,” the judge said . “We’ll find out in the future who the public blames; me or the district attorney.”
But neither Roger nor any of his deputies responded to Dahl’s invitation or attended the hearing Friday.
State law requires a township to have a justice of the peace for every 100,000 people. North Las Vegas has roughly 241,400 people, and three judges who each work four 10-hour days. But only two deputy district attorney staff the three courts. They work hard and do the best they can under “impossible conditions,” but justice is not being served, Dahl said.
North Las Vegas is home to 12.4 percent of the county’s population and roughly 10 percent of its felony crimes, according to the 2009 Report on the Nevada Judiciary, but Roger dedicates only 2 percent of his 100-attorney staff to North Las Vegas, Dahl notes.
This fiscal year, 539 of the 2,625 felony cases filed in North Las Vegas were dismissed, Dahl said, and most were dropped “pursuant to statute” because the state failed to meet deadlines such as a plea hearing for a detained person within 72 hours, or a probable cause review within 48 hours.
Roger, who is seeking re-election in November, said in an interview that he can’t send more deputies to North Las Vegas Justice Court because he has dozens of unfilled positions.
“We’d love to have a prosecutor for every courtroom in the county,” said Roger, “but we’ve lost 60 positions.”
Dahl said Roger could put more deputies in court if he didn’t assign so many to special teams such as the bad check, career criminal, case assessment, criminal appeals or gang units, among others.
“It’s not a matter of not having enough attorneys,” Dahl said. “He has 49 who don’t even go to court.”
The judge also faults the prosecutors themselves because they took the county to court over a 10- to 12-percent pay raise that forced Clark County to impose a hiring freeze. Roger said the pay raise was beyond his control, and also notes that Henderson Justice Court has the same count of judges and deputy district attorneys and far fewer problems.
“We suggested they add an afternoon calendar,” Roger said. “We suggested they stagger the calendars. Henderson works with us. Las Vegas works with us.”
Dahl said North Las Vegas judges are accommodating, but they work in the third-busiest justice court in the state, lagging only Las Vegas and Reno. They deal with a higher level of poverty, more cases involving violence and more cases where victims and witnesses aren’t eager to go to court.
“It seems to me with our special problems we should have more resources, not less,” Dahl said. “Twenty-one percent of our cases get dismissed (for lack of prosecution).”
The state average for dismissals is 15 percent, and most of those are because of reasons other than missed deadlines, he said.
On one point Dahl and Roger agree: The judge cannot order the district attorney to provide a prosecutor.
“They can just say, ‘We’re not coming today. Dismiss all the cases,’ ” Dahl said.
Contact Doug McMurdo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.