weather icon Partly Cloudy

Clark County public defender investigated for sexual harassment

Updated March 17, 2018 - 12:29 am

Clark County has hired an outside law firm to investigate new claims that Public Defender Phil Kohn acted inappropriately toward female employees, according to a knowledgeable source.

The decision to launch an investigation was made this week after county commissioners received an anonymous letter containing the allegations.

“Phil Kohn is often inappropriate with many of the women who work in the office,” the letter says. “He says inappropriate things in the guise of a joke.”

The letter also alleges that Kohn has refused to probe sexual harassment allegations against “older, established” male attorneys.

“We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and investigate them in a manner that ensures a fair and thorough review of any claims of inappropriate behavior,” county spokesman Dan Kulin wrote in a statement. “At times, the District Attorney’s Office will use an outside firm experienced in employment discrimination and harassment claims to assist with an investigation.”

Kohn, who has led the office since 2004, said he had heard of the letter but not seen it. He denied any impropriety and said he welcomes an investigation.

“We try very hard to make this a safe workplace for women. This is just not true,” he said.

But a former employee named in the letter told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Kohn sexually harassed her and was known to make unwanted flirtatious comments to his female subordinates.

“I’m pretty sure every woman in the office has experienced this,” she said. “It was definitely an open secret.”

County commissioners said the letter came as a shock to them.

“There is no room in the workplace for sexual harassment or bullying,” Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said. “I’m confident the county manager’s office will thoroughly investigate this and come to an appropriate resolution.”

“The appropriate things are taking place to determine if this is factual, and we’ll go from there,” Commissioner Susan Brager said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she has been working on an update to the county’s sexual harassment and bullying policies to make whistleblowers feel safe in coming forward.

“I think everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but I’m glad we are investigating this,” she said. “An outside firm makes good sense … because it’s (concerning) a supervisory role.”

This is not the first time Kohn has been accused of harassment, according to former District Attorney David Roger.

Roger said in December 2010 he alerted the county’s top executive, commissioners and deputy public defenders about an anonymous letter he received from someone claiming to be a deputy public defender.

“The author claims that a long standing history of sexual discrimination and harassment exists under the present Public Defender’s administration,” states an internal memo Roger provided to the Review-Journal.

“Those wishing to provide information pursuant to the whistle blower provisions should contact the County Manager,” the memo further states.

Roger said he sent the memo to then-County Manager Virginia Valentine. Commissioners who are still serving — including Sisolak, Giunchigliani, Brager, Larry Brown and Lawrence Weekly — also received a copy.

“It was expressed to me in no uncertain terms that they (the county manager and commissioners) were not happy with me sending out that memo,” Roger said. “But I felt it was incumbent upon me to give these people an avenue to raise their concerns.”

Kohn said he did not remember the memo and that he and Roger were “adversaries.”

“I’m certainly not going to comment on anything David Roger has said,” Kohn said. “Right now I’m going to let the county investigate this. I’m not going to litigate this in the newspaper.”

Valentine said she did not remember the memo, and that it would have arrived during the final week of her tenure as county manager.

Sisolak, Giunchigliani, Brown and Weekly could not be reached for comment on the memo.

Brager said she did not remember receiving the memo but believes she would have made sure county management looked into it.

“Anything like that would absolutely catch my attention,” Brager said. “The rule for me is I would have given that to the county manager or (county counsel) Mary-Anne Miller. Do I recall that? No. But I know how I work.”

Review-Journal reporter Jeff German contributed to this report.

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

Public Defender document by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.