Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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Corruption trial postponed, again

Former county recorder accused of abusing her office will be tried in fall, with public picking up defense tab

Fran Deane was booted from her job as Clark County recorder in 2006 and now lives 1,820 miles away from Las Vegas, but she’s still riling up people at the courthouse.

After several continuances, a collapsed plea agreement and a change in lawyers, Deane has yet to stand trial since being charged 2 1/2 years ago with using her public office to enrich herself.

Her long-awaited trial was supposed to start next week, but on Tuesday, it was delayed a fifth time.

The latest delay stems from her bitter split from her former attorney, Conrad Claus.

Deane — who has moved to Appleton, Wis., where she reportedly is unemployed and living with her parents under a different last name — is currently being represented by the Clark County Public Defender’s Office, which means her defense is coming courtesy of the taxpayers.

“It’s offensive that she allegedly ripped off the county and the taxpayers for thousands of dollars, and we now are paying for her defense,” said District Attorney David Roger, who pushed to have Deane removed from her elective office after he filed a felony complaint against her in June 2006.

The complaint charged Deane with, among other things, theft, misconduct by a public officer and unlawfully profiting from her office. She allegedly pocketed thousands of dollars from the sale of county documents under her control. One businessman testified that, in buying documents from Deane, he had $16,000 cash delivered to her hidden in stuffed animals.

On Tuesday, District Judge Valorie Vega reset Deane’s trial for Sept. 21 to give the public defender’s office more time to obtain a voluminous amount of documents prosecutors had turned over to Claus in the case.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell, who prosecutes corruption and major fraud cases, said he wasn’t surprised that the trial was put off this time.

“It’s always difficult to successfully oppose a motion to continue a case when the defense attorney doesn’t have all of the state’s documentary evidence,” Mitchell said.

Deane’s relationship with Claus soured last summer, several weeks after efforts to resolve the case with a plea agreement collapsed.

She filed a complaint against Claus with the Nevada State Bar in July over his representation of her in the case, Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee confirmed.

Pattee said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the complaint, but it was dismissed on Oct. 13.

Shortly after Deane filed the complaint, Claus, a former deputy district attorney, on Aug. 15 formally asked Vega to let him withdraw as Deane’s attorney.

In an affidavit, he said that there had been a “complete breakdown of communications” between him and Deane and that Deane had asked him to withdraw. He also said Deane had not been paying him.

That same day, Claus filed a complaint in District Court against Deane and a long list of insurance and medical companies that were seeking compensation from treatment provided Deane for injuries she suffered in a March 2, 2007, automobile accident.

In the complaint, Claus asked a judge to take jurisdiction over claims made by the companies on the remaining $19,000 of a $40,000 insurance settlement Deane had received from the accident.

Then, at a Sept. 18 hearing in the criminal case last year, Vega determined that Deane qualified for public legal assistance and appointed the public defender’s office to represent her.

But Deane later questioned whether the public defender’s office — which falls under the supervision of the county, like the recorder’s office and the district attorney’s office — could truly protect her legal interests.

“She raised the issue with us, and we brought it to the attention of the court,” Federal Public Defender Phil Kohn said.

Vega ended up ruling that the public defender did not have a conflict of interest representing Deane.

And Kohn said his office is duty-bound to defend Deane to the best of its ability.

“We’re going to defend her. It’s as simple as that,” Kohn said. “Everybody is entitled to the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel.”

Claus declined to talk about his troubles with Deane.

He said he was prepared to turn over his files to the public defender’s office, but was asked to wait while the conflict of interest issue was being ironed out.

Deane could not be reached for comment.

Jeff German is the Sun’s senior investigative reporter.

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