Judge Handcuffs Lawyer in Court to 'Teach Her a Lesson'

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 26, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Las Vegas judge handcuffed a public defender and seated her with inmates after she spoke over him in court. Assistant public defender Zohra Bakhtary had been arguing to keep her client out of jail when Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen told her to "be quiet," then had her cuffed when she continued to speak. While Bakhtary was cuffed, Hafen went on to finish hearing the case, sentencing the client to six months in jail. He then ordered Bakhtary uncuffed, saying, "I think she's learned a lesson."

The judge says it was all an exercise in the importance of courtroom decorum. We're not so sure.

Just a Simple Issue of Decorum

Bakhtary and Hafen are no strangers to each other. Bakhtary has worked as a public defender for three years, spending at least one day a week in Hafen's courtroom, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. And, according to the judge, she repeatedly talks over him. The best solution to that problem, apparently, was a public handcuffing.

Bakhtary's mouth landed her in handcuffs as she was advocating for a client who was accused of violating probation on petit larceny charges. The judge told her to "be quiet," and then things escalated from there. Here's how it went, according to the Review-Journal:

Bakhtary tried to interject.

"Zohra," the judge said.

She spoke up again: "You're making --"

"Do you want to be found in contempt?"

"Judge, you're asking --"

The judge once more asked her to be quiet. "Now. Not another word."

Bakhtary then said, "Judge, you're," before being cut off.

Hafen turned to his marshal. "Travis, right now. I'm tired of it. Right now."

"You need to have order in a courtroom," Hafen told the newspaper. "And there needs to be proper decorum with attorneys."

So Many Better Ways to Handle the Situation

Of course, there are other ways of ensuring proper decorum in a courtroom without publicly humiliating an attorney in front of her client. Fines typically work much better. Monetary sanctions for each time a lawyer cut off the judge would have most lawyers on their best behavior quickly.

Similarly, we can't help but notice that the judge referred to Bakhtary by her first name in court -- not exactly the most decorous treatment of a lawyer and perhaps an indication that some gender bias was at play. And, if the issue had been a reoccurring one, the most appropriate response would likely be to deal with it in chambers, not with handcuffs in the middle of the courtroom.

But, it doesn't seem like Hafen's inappropriate reaction will leave too many scars. "I don't think there's going to be a hangover from this," Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn said after meeting with the Judge. "She's tenacious. It's probably why today happened. But I don't believe for one second that this will deter her from doing her job zealously. I know that she will continue to fight for her clients. As far as I'm concerned, it's behind us."

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