I-Team: A ‘scorched earth’ behind-the-scenes battle over judicial discipline

I-Team
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Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson.

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Bitter accusations have been traded back and forth in a series of letters involving Nevada’s Judicial Discipline Commission.

The executive director of the commission has accused Las Vegas attorneys of using “scorched earth” tactics in their defense of embattled Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson. The attorneys fired back, arguing that the executive director and the commission have targeted female judges over trivial matters and have tried to muzzle their First Amendment rights. 

The judicial commission has pursued Tobiasson for possible disciplinary measures, in part because of statements she made in an interview with the 8 News Now I-Team.

In that interview, Tobiasson complained that local law enforcement agencies failed to investigate a sex trafficking operation that tried to recruit her own daughter, and the daughters of other prominent Las Vegans, into working as prostitutes. Tobiasson’s lead attorney, Marc Cook, filed a lawsuit in federal court, accusing the NJDC and others of attempting to stifle Tobiasson’s First Amendment rights. 

“It’s appropriate for federal court because it’s First Amendment. Second, we need an impartial panel, which would be the federal judge in this case, to decide these issues. Because it’s pretty clear at this point we are not getting any level of objectivity or impartiality in front of the judicial disciplinary commission. So we filed it in federal court and the reason we filed it is essentially, the bulk of the allegations against Judge Tobiasson revolve around the fact that she reported potential sex trafficking issues and issues relating to pimps trying to victimize teenage women,” Cook said during a March 9, 2021 interview with the I-Team. 

In a February letter to top Nevada officials, including state legislators, Cook described the unprecedented level of resources the commission had devoted to the Tobiasson complaint, assigning four attorneys to work on the case along with private investigators. Cook says the effort consumed more than 70% of the discipline commission’s budget. 

“Well, the cases against Judge Tobiasson in this action have been going on in excess of two years, even before they filed it, which as an aside exceeds their statute of limitations,” Cook says. “But they made up a rule to go after her anyway, beyond that period of time.”

“But we know in the last year, and again, that’s only half of the period of time, less than half of the period of time they’ve had this case, they’ve represented in the legislature, that they’ve spent 75% of their funds on her — on her case — they’ve been tenacious with this, they’ve gone after her for free speech issues. They’ve gone after her based on the clothes she wore, the thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars they spent investigating the clothes she wears under her robe, unseen by anybody who is in front of her in her capacity as a judge, and the criticisms they’ve gone after and completely fabricated,” Cook said during a March 9, 2021 interview with the I-Team. 

Executive Director and General Counsel of the commission, Paul Deyhle, fired back at Cook’s allegations

In a March 3, 2021 letter addressed to Gov. Steve Sisolak and copied to several other Nevada officials, Deyhle accused Tobiasson’s lawyers of “false and contrived allegations of bias, bad faith, conflicts of interest, recklessness, failure to follow the law and other meritless collusion, collaboration and secret (star chamber) conspiracy theories in proceedings and matters before the commission, the Nevada Supreme Court … .” 

Deyle’s letter said he had no intention of responding  to Cook’s “groundless attacks,” but then did so anyway. 

“Mr. Cook has relentlessly employed and continues to engage in the following scorched earth tactics, including, but not limited to, (i) threatening to file attorney discipline complaints with the State Bar of Nevada against me, as General Counsel and Executive Director of the commission, as well as the Commission’s prosecuting officers, for pursuing and prosecuting the Commission’s disciplinary case against his client; (ii) serving and/or attempting to serve subpoenas on the spouses and co-workers of certain Commission investigators who have nothing to do with the Commission’s disciplinary case against his client….” 

Deyhle argued that Cook’s tactics on behalf of the judge have helped document the need to expand the budget and resources available to the commission.    

The pressure and expense of the two-year disciplinary tussle prompted Judge Tobiasson to announce her resignation from the bench, although her attorneys had advised she would likely prevail in federal court.  Her resignation was effective the first week of May.

Although the legal fight is essentially over, attorney Marc Cook, who declined to comment for this news report, wrote a blistering, point-by-point response to Deyhle’s letter to Sisolak. He accused the commission of using a different set of rules for female judges, and also of leaking confidential documents. Cook made similar allegations in the March 9, 2021 interview with the I-Team.

“If you take a look at the complaint in this action, they’ve completely made things up. It’s contrived, it’s vindictive, they’ve written their documents, as though they’re press releases in an effort to avoid the fact that they’re not supposed to talk about these things. Through the stages that they’ve instead released these statements, that are essentially press releases, and by the way, false ones, to try and suppress her and punish her for speaking,” Cook said. 

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