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Clark County DA says judge is biased, should be removed from all criminal cases

Updated May 31, 2024 - 7:38 pm

The Clark County district attorney’s office is seeking to remove a District Court judge from all criminal cases involving the office, alleging the judge is biased against prosecutors.

The motion, filed Wednesday and signed by Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, targets District Judge Erika Ballou, accusing her of failing to follow orders from the Nevada Supreme Court.

Ballou had prisoner Mia Christman released from custody before the completion of her sentence, and then failed to remand Christman back into custody when the Supreme Court overturned her decision. The district attorney’s office has since filed an ethics complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline over how she handled Christman’s case.

“The status quo in which Judge Ballou is permitted to preside over all criminal matters involving the District Attorney’s office, while a judicial ethics complaint filed by the District Attorney’s office is pending, is an untenable situation that should be addressed by the Eighth Judicial District Court,” prosecutors wrote in the motion.

District Court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said Ballou was not available for comment Thursday.

Wolfson wrote that Ballou’s behavior was “egregious,” and that as a result of the ethics complaint, she could be removed from office.

“In short, allowing Judge Ballou to remain handling criminal matters involving the State while this judicial ethics complaint is pending, would subject the Eighth Judicial District Court to future claims of bias involving Judge Ballou and entirely unnecessary scrutiny concerning the Eighth Judicial Court’s ability to be part of a fair legal system,” the motion said.

Release from custody

The controversy surrounding Ballou’s rulings in Christman’s case began in November 2021, when Ballou granted a motion for Christman to be released from custody on her own recognizance while she had a pending appeal in front of the Supreme Court.

Christman had pleaded guilty in 2017 to robbery with a deadly weapon and failing to stop on a police officer’s signal. She was sentenced to two consecutive terms of up to 15 years in prison, with parole eligibility after five years, court records show.

In the motion asking for Christman’s release from custody, her attorney argued that although she was convicted of crimes with a “serious nature,” there was evidence that Christman “was a prostitute and had been used to commit crimes,” court records show.

Christman’s attorney, Betsy Allen, argued that Christman should be released from custody pending the Supreme Court’s decision on her appeal, and that bail was not necessary to ensure her court appearances.

In August 2022, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to District Court, reversing Ballou’s order granting a post-conviction petition and ordering the case to continue with “proceedings consistent with this order,” court records show.

Ballou did not order Christman to be re-incarcerated. Over a year after originally sending the case back to Ballou, Supreme Court justices issued a writ ordering Ballou to enter a judgment in Christman’s case in favor of the state.

Ballou still did not send Christman back to prison.

On April 30, the state filed the complaint against Ballou, according to Wednesday’s motion.

Ballou continued to issue rulings in Christman’s case, even after prosecutors filed a motion to recuse her. According to Wednesday’s motion, a judge is not permitted to make rulings on a case until a recusal motion is resolved.

On May 2, Ballou granted a motion from Christman’s defense, which sought to vacate the remaining prison sentence the Supreme Court had ordered her to serve, the motion said.

The next day, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the District Court to place another judge on the case.

In the order, justices wrote that although the higher court did not directly address Christman’s custody status in past rulings, a judgment in the state’s favor “necessarily entails recommitting Christman to serve the sentence imposed in the judgment of conviction.”

The case was reassigned to District Judge Eric Johnson, and Christman is currently listed as an inmate at Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center.

Elected in 2020

Ballou was elected in 2020 after she declined to raise any money for the race or visibly campaign.

She made headlines in 2022, when the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union for rank-and-file Metropolitan Police Department officers, called for her resignation over comments Ballou made in court about police officers.

The union alleged she had violated the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct when she told a defendant: “You’re a Black man in America, you know you don’t want to be nowhere where cops are.”

In January, a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline alleged that Ballou had violated the code of judicial conduct in social media posts.

One post contained a photo of Ballou posed in a hot tub with two public defenders, along with a caption the complaint alleged was inappropriate. Another post, which Ballou had appeared to make from the Life is Beautiful music festival, suggested that hearings for out-of-custody defendants should be vacated, according to the complaint.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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