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January 21, 2018

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Judge Valorie Vega says ethics charges lack merit


Steve Marcus

Judge Valorie Vega presides over the trial of Victor Fakoya at the Regional Justice Center on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010.

Updated Friday, June 8, 2012 | 3:09 p.m.

Clark County District Judge Valorie Vega said Friday she intends to fight state judicial ethics charges filed against her, saying the claims lack merit.

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline announced Friday that three counts of judicial misconduct were filed June 5 against Vega. She is accused of manipulating the schedule of a 2010 child abuse murder retrial so it didn't conflict with her personal schedule.

If allegations against a judge are founded, the commission has wide latitude in meting out discipline, which could range from no sanctions to requiring a judge to take an educational course to censuring or removing a judge from office, a commission spokesman said.

The charges, filed by Mary E. Boesch, special prosecutor, involve the trial and retrial of Victor Fakoya, who was eventually acquitted of a child abuse murder charge in the death of the daughter of a friend staying with his family.

The ethics charges partly stem from Vega keeping the jury overnight to reach a verdict in Fakoya's retrial. Juries are regularly dismissed at the end of a workday and asked to return the next morning to continue deliberations.

According to the complaint, to accommodate her personal schedule, Vega kept the jury, the attorneys and staff to conduct proceedings for almost 18 hours — from 1:12 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2010, until the jury returned with its acquittal verdict at 6:57 a.m. Dec. 17, 2010.

The complaint also alleges that during Fakoya's retrial, the judge recessed court in the early afternoon six times so she could attend her daughter's high school soccer games.

One of those recesses cost Clark County extra funds and inconvenienced an out-of-state expert witness who had to stay an extra day to finish his testimony, according to the complaint.

Vega declined an interview but issued a statement Friday morning.

"During my nearly 23 years serving on the bench, I have enjoyed an impeccable reputation," Vega wrote. "I strive to fulfill my job duties in accordance with the Judicial Cannons of Ethics.

"During my 259th trial as a District Court Judge, which was the retrial of the State v. Fakoya at the end of 2010, a series of factors combined and caused some procedural irregularities.

"I look forward to the opportunity to provide a full presentation on all of the relevant facts. I am confident that the facts will show that the claims lack merit, and further demonstrate that my intent was to preserve the jury, prevent a second mistrial for this case and administer justice."

David Sarnowski, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Discipline, said Vega will have until June 28 to formally answer the charges.

The burden will be on the special prosecutor to prove the charges, and the judge is entitled to a full hearing, he said. The hearing before the commission would be held in Las Vegas.

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