'Court cannot control media coverage,' Las Vegas judge responds in former politician’s murder case

‘Court cannot control media coverage,’ Las Vegas judge responds in former politician’s murder case

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Ex-public administrator accused of killing journalist

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Clark County District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt is responding to a former politician’s call for her removal in the murder trial against him.

Leavitt wrote in an affidavit that she could be fair and impartial to former Clark County public administrator Robert Telles. Telles, who is charged in the killing of Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German last year, had filed a motion for recusal, accusing Leavitt of “badgering” him during the Feb. 28 hearing where she approved his self-representation.

Leavitt ruled that Telles, 46, could represent himself in his murder trial which is set to take place in November.

During the hearing, Leavitt raised several concerns about Telles’ decision and his lack of experience and knowledge of criminal law.

Clark County District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt speaks to Robert Telles in court on Feb. 28, 2023. (KLAS)

“It is always unwise to represent yourself in any matter let alone a first-degree murder case,” Leavitt said in the hearing.

Leavitt told Telles that she was concerned because of his lack of experience in criminal cases and he will be up against the most experienced attorneys in this trial. Telles admitted in court that he had only handled a few civil jury cases.

Leavitt said in the hearing that her thorough questioning would establish a record that Telles was “not very knowledgeable” about criminal cases.

“You really don’t know about the charge against you and what you’re coming up against,” she told Telles.

“Defendant brings this motion to recuse Judge Leavitt because the level of bias exhibited by Judge Leavitt displays a deep-seated antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible,” Telles later wrote in court documents.

“Judge Leavitt’s badgering led the media to believe defendant was foolish to seek self-representation,” Telles said in court documents. “Judge Leavitt’s behavior led the media to produce stories wherein defendant’s intentions and capacity were called into question. Comments made in one news [story’s] comments section demonstrated members of the public took these points to heart.”

Leavitt responded, “the court cannot control the media coverage of this matter,” in her affidavit filed on March 10.

“The Nevada Supreme Court recently held the district court’s canvass must ensure the defendant is waiving counsel with eyes wide open,” Leavitt wrote. “The district court must safeguard against the unacceptable danger that defendant would choose to represent himself with an incomplete understanding of the risks he faces.”

Prosecutors accuse Telles of targeting German, 69, because of articles he was writing about problems in the court administrator’s office. Telles, a Democrat, lost a three-way primary in June. In online posts following the election, Telles appeared to blame German for his election loss.

Evidence in the case includes a video of a man prosecutors said is Telles walking up German’s driveway before the murder. Detectives found Telles’ DNA under German’s fingernails, police said.

In a separate filing earlier this year, Telles claimed other jail inmates are trying to coerce him to confess as he spends most of the day alone in a cell.

A hearing on Telles’ motion was scheduled for March 30. Telles’ trial is set to begin on Nov. 6.

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