Court upholds ethics penalties against Vegas judge
December 21, 2004
The Nevada Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Judicial Ethics Commission penalties imposed on Las Vegas District Judge Donald Mosley.
Mosley was censured by the commission, ordered to attend a National Judicial College ethics course and fined $5,000 for actions including conduct the commission said gave the appearance he was using his position as leverage to get a criminal defendant to testify for him on his own child custody case.
Joseph McLaughlin was charged at the time with kidnapping, robbery and burglary among other crimes. He at one point was living with Terry Figliuzzi – Mosley’s former girlfriend and the mother of his son. When Mosley was informed McLaughlin and his wife had information that could help Mosley in his custody battle over the boy, the judge met privately with McLaughlin and his lawyer. According to the opinion issued Tuesday, Mosley kept control of his case until after McLaughlin’s wife testified in the custody case. Only then did Mosley recuse himself.
“Since Judge Mosley had not recused himself, the McLaughlins may reasonably have believed that if they testified favorably to Judge Mosley in his child custody case, McLaughlin would have an advantage at sentencing,” the opinion states. “Judge Mosley’s delay in recusing himself also raises the implication that he wanted to make sure the testimony was in his favor, not that he wanted to see if the testimony was genuine as he alleges.”
The main opinion written by Chief Justice Miriam Shearing and Justice Deborah Agosti says Mosley should have recused himself immediately after being told the McLaughlins had information about his custody case. The court also upheld most of the other violations Mosley was sanctioned for by the commission.
Justices Bill Maupin and Nancy Becker and District Judge Andrew Puccinelli, who was assigned to sit on the case when it was heard, agreed with the main opinion but said they would also have upheld the Ethics panel ruling that Mosley should never have released an accused burglar on his own recognizance. Robert D’Amore was jailed awaiting a hearing before Clark County District Judge John McGroarty when Mosley ordered him released. That violation was tossed out by Shearing and Agosti who agreed even though it violated judicial canons, it was common practice in the Clark County judicial system at the time.
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“In short, this exercise of judicial power had every appearance of an act of favoritism taken without regard to its merits,” wrote Maupin, Becker and Puccinelli.
Justice Bob Rose also joined the majority in upholding the primary sanctions imposed by the Ethics panel. But Justice Mark Gibbons dissented saying he would turn the whole case back to the Ethics panel on grounds Mosley’s right to due process was violated by not allowing his expert witness to give an opinion on whether Mosley’s conduct violated judicial ethical standards.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.