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Ex-Nevada judge banned from bench now a city attorney in Utah suburb

Saratoga Springs says Conrad Hafen was the most qualified candidate for the assistant city attorney job

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Utah native Conrad Hafen, a former Nevada judge, is now an assistant city attorney in Saratoga Springs.

Isaac Brekken, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A former Nevada judge barred from the bench there in part for the handcuffing of a defense attorney is now at work prosecuting crime in Saratoga Springs.

Utah native Conrad Hafen quietly stepped into the role of assistant city attorney in January, nearly three years after Nevada’s judicial discipline board banished him for a string of confrontations in his courtroom.

Hafen, who agreed not to contest censure for the incidents from 2014-2016, returned to Highland after losing his bid for re-election as a Las Vegas justice of the peace in 2016.

He applied for the Saratoga Springs job after spending about two years as a part-time employee in the city’s recreation department, where his duties included supervising referees at youth sports games, said city spokesman David Johnson.

“He has decades of professional experience and education. He has credentials to practice law, and he was the most qualified candidate for the position,” Johnson said.

Johnson would not make available Hafen, city manager Mark Christensen or city attorney Kevin Thurman.

Hafen, who retained his license to practice in both states, did not return a message seeking comment.

A former lead prosecutor in the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, he had been elected to a six-year term as a Las Vegas justice of the peace in 2010. Hafen drew national attention in May 2016 when he ordered defense attorney Zohra Bakhtary detained after finding her in contempt.

Bakhtary was arguing against jail time for her client at a sentencing hearing and kept talking as Hafen warned repeatedly that she faced being held in contempt for interrupting while he tried to rule, according to transcripts.

Hafen said at the time he had Bakhtary taken into custody because she wouldn’t stop arguing and he wanted to teach her a lesson about courtroom decorum.

Bakhtary sat in a chair next to the jury box as her client was sentenced to jail. His theft conviction was later tossed after a judge ruled that he hadn’t been represented by a lawyer when he was sentenced, the Associated Press reported.

Handcuffing Bakhtary drew opposition from a union representing Las Vegas defense attorneys and spurred Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice to seek sanctions from the disciplinary board.

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline ultimately found Hafen abused his authority and that he had failed to file written contempt-of-court filings. Three of four courtroom incidents involved Bakhtary.

In Saratoga Springs, those reviewing his job application drew a distinction between his earlier career as a chief deputy in the Nevada attorney general’s office and his time on the bench, Johnson said.

“We looked into the situation from 2016 and the stipulated agreement he signed in 2017, and we determined it didn’t have a bearing on his abilities to perform the essential job functions as an assistant city attorney,” Johnson said. “We didn’t hire Mr. Hafen as a judge. We hired him as an assistant city attorney. So the scope of work and the level of responsibility, it’s not comparable.” 

Johnson said Hafen does not specialize in any sort of case and reports to the city attorney. His duties range from civil matters like contracts for residential developments and city events, to misdemeanor criminal offenses, Johnson said.

Johnson said he didn’t know at what point Hafen’s discipline in Nevada came on the radar of the attorney’s office, which hadn’t known he was working in recreation until a lawyer slot opened up and Hafen applied.

Hafen is originally from Roy and earned a bachelor’s from Weber State University and a masters in public administration at Brigham Young University, according to a biography that remained on the Last Vegas Justice Court website Monday. He has a law degree from the University of Idaho.

A former chief deputy in Nevada’s Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, he went on to become a prosecutor in that state’s attorney general’s office, focusing on public corruption before his election as a judge.