George Knapp: Judge Vega’s legal woes

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<p>George Knapp</p>

I’m passing the hat to help impoverished District Court Judge Valerie Vega. She may not have a lot of money, but she sure has cajones.

As you might recall, Nevada’s Judicial Discipline Commission recently came down hard on Judge Vega. While presiding over a murder trial in late 2010 — a murder trial, for crying out loud — the judge put her personal life above the interests of the accused, the jurors, the attorneys and the public that pays her salary. According to the complaint filed by the commission, on six occasions Judge Vega ordered the murder trial to an early halt so she could attend her daughter’s soccer games. (She was spotted on the bench, all right, but not the one in court — she was seen at the games by my colleague Colleen McCarty.)

Furthermore, the judge ordered her jury to begin deliberations at 3 in the morning, even though jurors had been in the courtroom for 14 hours by that point. The reason? She was leaving the next day for her vacation.

It isn’t often that the commission comes down this hard on a sitting judge, but an investigation found the charges were well-supported. So, was Judge Vega contrite to be thusly nailed by the watchdog agency? Oh, heaven forbid. Not only does she deny that there was anything wrong with what she did, but she had the sheer gall to ask the state to provide her with public funds so she can hire a heavyweight private attorney to defend her.

Sure thing, your honor. Would you prefer superlawyer Rick Wright, or maybe Jim Jimmerson? How about Dominic Gentile or Don Campbell? It’s only public money, so by all means, spare no expense.

Vega has been on the bench since 1989. She earns somewhere in excess of $160,000 per year. (I was unable to find the exact number, but it might be as high as $190,000.) You would think someone who earns that much could pay for her own lawyer, rather than to ask the taxpayers — who were already screwed once by her selfish behavior — to pay again. But her honor thinks it’s the least the public can do for her, unless maybe we’d like to give her a few extra days of vacation.

Anyway, that’s why I am passing the hat, asking for everyone to chip in — so that Judge Vega can afford the very best attorney public money can buy. Because if she can somehow beat these charges and crush the Judicial Discipline Commission, I’m sure she’ll be appropriately humble on the bench from here on out. Right?

WATER WATCH

Readers of this space will recall a column two weeks ago that predicted what would likely be included in the BLM’s environmental assessment of the proposed rural water grab. It turns out the predictions were right. BLM described the environmental havoc that would be unleashed on rural Nevada by the Pat Mulroy pipeline, although the federal agency was fairly nonchalant in its approach to this disaster-in-waiting.

What you did not see is the memo sent out by water czar Pat Mulroy after the report came out. In it, she told various muckety-mucks that she wants the state to take the whole water grab matter to the U.S. Supreme Court so she can get the green light to suck up groundwater from under environmentally sensitive areas of neighboring Utah. I mean, why stop at destroying a vast area of only one state when the project could just as easily devastate two for the same price?

Mulroy says she wants to go to court right away because these silly Utah folks somehow believe they can prevent her from snatching the water from under their feet.

It’s only public money, of course, and while Mulroy and her employees are fond of saying they don’t want to embark on the water grab unless they really, really have no choice, the fact is, this project has been the main focus of Southern Nevada Water Authority for more than 10 years. It has already seen more than $100 million in public funds spent to make it happen, so what’s a few million more on another legal fight?

Some anti-water-grab activists are chuckling about this approach. As one told me, SNWA has gotten its ass kicked in every court battle it has fought regarding the pipeline. Its only hope is to use its political muscle to force the project, because if it comes to a question of law, chances are good it can be stopped.

I’ve said it before — this pipeline will never be built. That won’t stop SNWA from spending millions of your dollars to chase after it, but it is money down the drain.

OTHER STUFF

Rancher Hank Vogler, one of the most outspoken critics of the water grab, has a tough road ahead. He is facing challenging surgery later this month on his heart, lungs, spleen and other parts, but he is in remarkably good spirits and vows to come out of the hospital as ornery as ever. … This weekend marks the annual Goldfield Days celebration in the town of Goldfield. If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of a ghost town, or are interested in having dinner in a reputed haunted (and historic) schoolhouse, you should check out the weekend’s full slate of activities. … Belated thanks to Sen. Richard Bryan for his role in giving a great send-off to anchorman Gary Waddell. I can’t tell you about the joke Sen. Bryan helped to pull off, except to say it was a rip-snorter and would not have been half as funny without Bryan’s sense of humor. … Next week: the Great Chimp Road Trip.