East Fork Justice of the Peace Jim EnEarl was reprimanded Thursday for denying Joseph Manoukian "critical due process protections" during a May 2001 hearing where he revoked the man's probation and ordered him back to jail.
Manoukian was a recovering drug addict on probation for writing bad checks when he was late for two court appearances to explain why he failed to keep a job and make restitution payments.
Court transcripts quote EnEarl as telling Manoukian: "Quite frankly, I'm getting fed up with you." The judge also made comments including that Manoukian had "failed and refused to get a job."
When the 27-year-old apologized for being late, EnEarl responded, "Well, you're not nearly as sorry as you're about to be."
He ordered Manoukian's probation revoked and had him taken to jail, where he killed himself in his cell five days later. He left behind a letter to EnEarl in which he said he had "stayed clean" and was trying to straighten out his life.
"The only real battle that I have been fighting is the battle of depression," the letter said.
The Commission on Judicial Discipline ruled unanimously that EnEarl should have brought Manoukian's lawyer Michael Roeser to court before hearing allegations Manoukian violated terms of his probation.
"Respondent's failure to ensure that attorney Roeser was present either to contest the allegations or to enter his client's waiver of a hearing denied the defendant critical due process protections afforded by the law and required by the Code of Judicial Conduct," the reprimand states.
Special prosecutor Mary Boetsch argued for sanctions against EnEarl, saying the judge's comments showed his bias and that holding the hearing without notice to Manoukian's lawyer was inexcusable. She charged that EnEarl had already decided Manoukian was going back to jail when he started the hearing.
"I'm not here suggesting Judge EnEarl be removed from office, but he crossed the line," she told the commission during the Sept. 3 hearing.
Lawyer John Springgate told the commission EnEarl wasn't denying the facts, but that he was trying to shake up Manoukian, get his attention to get him back on track to recovery -- what he described as "tough love."
The commission ruled that, even so, the law expects a defendant's rights will be protected -- "including the right to counsel where loss of liberty is a possibility."
"It was Respondent's responsibility, not that of the defendant himself or the deputy district attorney, to ensure that probation was revoked only after a fair hearing with counsel, not a one-sided colloquy with an unrepresented litigant," the ruling states.
"It's a sad thing all around," Roeser said Thursday.
EnEarl was out of the office on Thursday when the reprimand was released.
His attorney, Springgate, called the decision "a relatively appropriate penalty."
-- Maggie O'Neill of the Nevada Appeal News Service contributed to this report.