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August 5, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

More to DA’s departure than meets the eye

Fraught With Conflict?

Critics say Clark County District Attorney David Roger sides with police. Now he's making it official. We'll hear from a critic who says Roger's imminent career move is fraught with conflict. Plus, how green are your state lawmakers? We'll find out when the Nevada Conservation League unveils its legislative scorecard on the environment.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger

Why is the Clark County District Attorney leaving three years early? Is it the new baby or the new job? Or both? We'll get the news from David Roger. Plus, from web poker to foreign gaming, can Nevada's gaming industry overcome the obstacles on the way to economic recovery?

Let’s stipulate: David Roger has a fine reputation as district attorney, embodied the hackneyed “straight shooter” to many and, like almost all in his job, inevitably was seen as too cozy with the police.

Thus endeth the stipulation.

What fascinates me about the story of Roger’s sudden resignation, less than a year after he was re-elected to a third term, is how little commentary there has been about the propriety of his sub rosa conversations with the police union, his departure so long before his tenure was scheduled to end and the enduring habit too many elected officials have of putting their covenant with voters below ambition, money and, yes, putative personal reasons.

Police Protective Association boss Chris Collins told me Sunday that he brought up the possibility of a job during Roger’s re-election campaign. (Roger says he is wrong, that it came up a few months ago and they had several conversations about the job.)

So after acting as the county’s top law enforcement officer, and after having served on a coroner’s inquest panel and after trying to kill the system in the 2011 Legislature, Roger is leaving now, perhaps to take a job with the police union? This doesn’t seem questionable to anyone?

It did to former ACLU lawyer Maggie McLetchie, who served with Roger on that county coroner’s inquest panel and said on “Face to Face” this week that this reinforces the perception that the district attorney goes light on officers. But she also raised the possibility that Roger potentially violated bar guidelines and ethical rules that prohibit conflicts of interest.

As McLetchie put it, Roger trying to get a job with the police union could “materially affect” his judgment on issues with officer-involved shootings. Or, as an American Bar Association guideline puts it, “A prosecutor should not, except as law may otherwise expressly permit, negotiate for private employment with any person who is involved as an accused or as an attorney or agent for an accused in a matter in which the prosecutor is participating personally and substantially … a prosecutor should not permit his or her professional judgment or obligations to be affected by his or her own political, financial, business, property, or personal interests.”

Similar Nevada rules seem to frown on prosecutors later representing those whom they may have had to prosecute — exactly the purpose for which the PPA wants to retain him.

Now that Roger has announced he will retire on Jan. 3, he essentially has a couple of months to be courted by other suitors, too — an extended audition period after he spent the past year auditioning for the PPA.

Roger’s explanation for his departure a quarter of the way into his term also raises questions. His brief missive referring to his 1-year-old daughter said he is “very cognizant of my own mortality and want to spend every minute of every day enjoying time with my family. I do not have any firm employment offers at the present time.”

So what questions linger?

1. If you knew you were having a baby during your re-election bid, why not retire then? Yes, most parents can’t anticipate all the strains of parenthood, but really? And if he wants “to spend every minute of every day enjoying time with my family,” that would seem to leave little time for any other employment, eh?

2. No “firm employment offers at the present time.” You have to be kidding. If I were a prosecutor, I could shred that carefully parsed statement in seconds. Does anyone think Roger would do this now if he didn’t have a job waiting? Of course he does — he acknowledges one from Collins — and now other offers will flow in. Clever.

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this final point, too: It simply amazes me how many elected officials run for office and commit to serve their terms — it’s implicit in their placing their name on the ballot — and then leave.

It’s one thing if something unexpected comes along — an illness in the family, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For instance, Judge Jackie Glass left early for a national TV show — does that qualify? — and now her husband, Councilman Steve Wolfson, who is up in 2013, wants Roger’s job — doubt that does.

They are but two examples, and from governors to lawmakers to local officials, it happens all the time. And yet, have you ever heard an elected official apologize for abandoning his constituents for a “better” opportunity?

Roger’s case is especially egregious, so early in his term. And although the district attorney said he thought about his commitment to voters, he also said on “Face to Face” on Tuesday that he had to think of his family.

I am sure he was referring to his wife and daughter, not the law enforcement family.

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