Fallon judge gets 30-day suspension
A Fallon judge who admitted to a dozen ethical violations, including interference in a sexual assault case, will keep his seat following a review Wednesday by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline.
Daniel Ward, New River Township Justice of the Peace, was given a 30-day suspension without pay, placed on probation for four years and ordered to take judicial ethics classes, as part of a plea bargain.
The full list of charges could have resulted in Ward’s removal as a judge and a lifetime ban on holding any judicial post. But special prosecutor Mary Boetsch and defense attorney Scott Freeman worked out a settlement that specified Ward would be on probation four years and, if any other problems occurred, would immediately lose his seat. The deal also requires Ward to take ethics and other such classes every year for four years.
Ward admitted to 12 of the 15 ethical violations, including that he interfered in a sexual assault case against longtime Fallon resident Wes Lattin and interfered in a case involving drug charges against his son own, Sean. He also admitted misusing his position and influence to give breaks to friends and co-workers, including that he fixed tickets, berated and insulted a lawyer representing a woman before him and interfered with the district attorney’s office in several cases.
“He stipulated to the violations, he stipulated they were willful and he stipulated that he can’t take that back,” Freeman said. “I believe he has gotten his lesson and you don’t have to invoke that death penalty (removal from the bench).”
Freeman also pointed out the settlement would make it unnecessary for the commission to meet in Carson City for the next two weeks.
But during the commission’s questioning of Ward on each of the counts against him, he seemed to hedge in admitting guilt at several points – particularly in the charges he interfered with the sexual assault case and allegations he effectively conspired with the defense lawyer to keep Lahontan Valley News reporter Marlene Garcia from covering the case.
During questioning about those violations, he repeatedly told the commission he just didn’t think about the potential for conflict or ethical violations.
While he admitted willfully purchasing a vehicle used as bail security in a case before his court and keeping it even after being told the owners were fighting to get it back, he told the commission he didn’t know it was involved in a case before him.
In the sexual assault case, he denied having any real contact with the defendant for probably two years before the case was filed.
He verbally denied suggesting a plan to hold a “quick preliminary hearing” in the case without posting notice to prevent the reporter from attending, even though he specifically admitted to that charge.
And he repeatedly said he couldn’t explain why he didn’t remove himself from cases in which he had a clear conflict of interest.
“I don’t know,” he said at several points.
In the case involving his son, he said he simply allowed emotion to overrule logic when he went around the district attorney’s office to get the youth out of jail on his own recognizance.
“I was not thinking as a judge. I was thinking more as a father,” he said.
In her closing statement, prosecutor Boetsch said she was sticking with the proposed settlement but that she was “a little troubled” with Ward’s apparent attempt to hedge on his admission to the facts in the 12 counts.
“The deal is he admits the facts – all of them – not some of them,” she said.
Freeman said his client was admitting to those counts and, he said, he believes Ward has learned from the process.
“He won’t be in trouble again,” he said.
After the commission decided on a 30-day suspension, Freeman said the penalty “was much less than we had asked for.”
“I think he learned a lot of important lessons,” he said.
Boetsch said she didn’t know how to interpret the decision but that, without the four- year probationary period, it was definitely less than the penalty spelled out in the settlement agreement.
The final verdict, however, will come in November when Ward must face Fallon area voters in his bid for re-election.
— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.