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Questions arise over judge selection in Nugget embezzlement case

We reported in a post yesterday that prominent Reno attorney Richard Davenport had been arrested on suspicion of embezzling more than $3 million from the Sparks hotel-casino. The Reno Gazette Journal reported Sunday that the process for picking the judge who will decide whether Davenport goes to prison or gets probation is being criticized by some who say the standard procedure should have been followed to avoid any question of impropriety.

The article reports that instead of allowing the case to be randomly assigned by the court clerk -- the standard practice -- Washoe District Chief Judge Jerry Polaha passed over a list of judges and sent the case directly to recently retired and now senior judge Peter Breen. The District Attorney handling the case indicated that he requested the departure from standard procedure due to concerns that several judges in the district had prior relationships with Davenport (a well known Reno attorney) that could raise conflict of interest issues. Chief Judge Polaha also indicated that the assignment process was handled differently due to concerns about conflicts.

However, Judge Brent Adams, another judge in the district, opined that "the process of selecting the judge should be uniform in all criminal cases." He explained that the way the process normally works is that the accused is charged, has a preliminary hearing or waives the hearing, and then the case is sent to the district court, where a clerk randomly assigns it to a judge in one of eight departments. If a judge has a conflict on interest with the case, he or she will step down and the case will return to the clerk for another random assignment. That process continues until all parties are in agreement.

Judge Adams expressed concern that Chief Judge Polaha had apparently preempted that process, which was unprecedented.

Davenport's attorney also expressed concern about the prosecuting attorney talking to the judge about case assignment without defense counsel present. But ultimately, Davenport's attorney said he was satisfied with having Judge Breen handle the case.

Read the full story here.

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