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Las Vegas judge faces questioning about profanity on sweater

Updated December 17, 2019 - 5:48 pm

Two Las Vegas judges found themselves on the witness stand Tuesday.

Special prosecutors, trying to show that Las Vegas Justices of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson and Amy Chelini pose a threat to the public, focused on their use of profanity off the bench.

Thomas Bradley, a Reno-based lawyer and prosecuting officer for the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, took issue with crude wording on a sweater that Andress-Tobiasson wore while walking the corridors of the Regional Justice Center.

A since-fired court administrator photographed Andress-Tobiasson wearing the turquoise blue top, emblazoned with a pair of cupcakes and the words “eat s—- and die,” at the courthouse in 2017 and later turned the picture over to investigators with the commission.

“Let’s talk about your sweater,” Bradley said during the second of a two-day disciplinary hearing at the Thomas & Mack Moot Courtroom at UNLV’s Boyd Law School. “Was it OK to wear it once?”

“Well, I wore it,” Andress-Tobiasson replied.

“Was it beneath the dignity of your office to wear a sweater to the courthouse, to be seen by court staff that says ‘eat s—- and die?’ Was that appropriate?”

“I could see how it would be viewed as inappropriate,” the judge said. “I did not feel it was because of the way it is hidden in the shirt.”

“So the fact that it wasn’t in bold language made it OK, but the fact that it was a little harder to see makes it fine? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m saying I did not view it as denigrating the dignity” of the judiciary, Andress-Tobiasson said.

Bradley then tried to ask where the judge purchased the sweater, but commissioners decided she did not have to answer the question.

‘Waste of taxpayer dollars’

The prosecutor also asked Andress-Tobiasson whether she cursed while at the courthouse. The judge acknowledged that she had but said it was not done in a pejorative manner.

“So the use of profanity doesn’t denigrate the office?” Bradley asked.

“I guess I’m not as offended by the use of some profanity as apparently others are,” Andress-Tobiasson replied.

Andress-Tobiasson and Chelini are facing possible suspension over whether they interfered with the hiring and firing of court administrators and pose “a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or administration of justice.”

Chief Justice of the Peace Suzan Baucum testified Tuesday that neither judge played a role in the decision to fire several officials earlier this year.

In response to the prosecutor’s questions, Chelini said she thought the hearing and investigation into the conduct of the judges amounted to a “witch hunt.”

“This doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “You’ve literally got two people who have done nothing wrong, that try to run their courts efficiently, and you keep coming.”

She looked toward Bradley.

“You’re smiling because you obviously do agree,” Chelini said.

The prosecutor responded: “I’m smiling because I like your answer.”

“I’m sure you do,” the judge said. “I think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. The only danger to the administration of justice is this prosecution.”

‘Pattern of misconduct’

Defense attorneys for the judges have said the allegations did not stem from any conduct that occurred in a courtroom.

Andress-Tobiasson, a former Clark County prosecutor, took the bench in 2009. Chelini, a former criminal defense attorney, was elected in 2016.

Bradley pointed to “a continuing pattern of misconduct” and asked the seven-member panel to immediately suspend both judges with pay, pending the outcome of a more thorough investigation.

He said the judges wanted control over which clerks worked in their courtrooms, which he called “misconduct designed to show the court administration that these judges and their clerks were not subject to their control, that these judges did what they want and they would protect their clerks.”

Bradley called the “flagrant” use of profanity at the courthouse “appalling.”

“The problem is they don’t fully appear to understand that their roles as judges require them to act something else than high school-esque,” he said.

The judges’ lawyers, Bill Terry and Tom Pitaro, argued that the allegations should not amount to a suspension.

“These are what we call good judges,” Pitaro said. “They care about the people that work for them. They care about the people that come before them. And they try to do what they’re supposed to do: efficiently administer justice impartially, with fairness.”

Commissioner Mason Simons said the panel would issue a written decision on possible suspensions, but he offered no timeline as to when the order would be released.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Find @randompoker on Twitter.

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