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Clark County finishes investigation into public defender Phil Kohn

Updated August 29, 2018 - 7:36 pm

Clark County has concluded its monthslong sexual harassment investigation into Public Defender Phil Kohn, officials confirmed Wednesday.

“The findings substantiated that Mr. Kohn engaged in making inappropriate comments of a sexual nature in the workplace and engaged in inappropriate physical behavior toward employees,” County Manager Yolanda King wrote in a statement. “Given the results of the findings, the appropriate disciplinary actions were taken against Mr. Kohn.”

In an interview Wednesday, King would not divulge how Kohn was disciplined and said the county would not release a report documenting the investigation’s findings because it is a personnel issue.

Nevada Press Association Executive Director Barry Smith criticized the decision.

“This is clearly a case where the public interest in the outcome of an investigation outweighs privacy concerns,” he said. “We need to hold accountable, not only the person who was investigated, but the people who are doing the investigating and handing out the punishment. Ultimately, the taxpayers are still the bosses. That’s who they all answer to.”

Kohn, 67, could not be reached on his cellphone Wednesday. According to an automatic reply from his county email address, he has been out of the office since Friday and will return Sept. 14.

Kohn will retire on Jan. 11, according to an email sent last week from King to public defender employees last week. The county will begin taking applications for the position in September and should have a new public defender before Kohn leaves.

King said Kohn’s retirement announcement is not connected to the sexual harassment investigation.

The county launched the investigation in March after county commissioners received an anonymous letter alleging Kohn was “often inappropriate with many of the women who work in the office.”

The investigation was conducted by attorney Robert Freeman of the Lewis Brisbois law firm in Las Vegas, according to county spokesman Dan Kulin. King said eight or nine current and former public defender employees were interviewed.

“I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any appearance that management was trying to protect him or cover up the allegations,” King said of hiring the outside firm.

Kohn remained in office throughout the investigation because he had a right to “due process,” King said. The county manager said she believes that was the right decision, but she recognized that it could have had an impact on employees’ willingness to participate in the investigation.

King said she has no plans to show the report to Kohn or his employees because doing so — even with the names of victims and witnesses removed — could have a negative impact on future investigations.

“I honestly fear that going forward, employees will not want to go through the interview process or participate in investigations if any information documented through those investigations become public,” she said.

The statement drew criticism from one former public defender employee who said she participated in the investigation. The former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said she wouldn’t want her name publicized but wanted the report’s findings to come to light.

“It looks like they are just trying to bury it because they won’t say the substance of the report, they won’t say if he is suspended,” the former employee said.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter. 

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