Questioned about Marsy’s Law, D.A. walks away

By: - October 18, 2018 4:17 pm
you're in his space

Still shot from Nevada Current video taken of District Attorney Steve Wolfson in 2018.

The primary backer of a ballot measure supporting victim rights in Nevada and four other states is facing four felony counts of drug trafficking in Clark County. But District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who appears in television ads supporting Marsy’s Law, has delayed filing formal charges against Henry T. Nicholas until November 6, which happens to be Election Day.

Nicholas and his companion, Ashley Fargo, were arrested on August 7 after police were notified of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy in their Las Vegas hotel room, according to police.

Court records indicate the two were released the next day without bail.  

A status check on the filing of a criminal complaint was scheduled for September 5 and continued at the request of prosecutors to November 6, which is Election Day.

Wolfson appeared at a news conference Thursday at SafeNest, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, to voice his support for the the measure, which is Question 1 on the ballot.  

“I will tell you that Question 1, Marsy’s Law, is the most significant victims’ rights law in the history of the state of Nevada,” Wolfson said.  

He went on to note a number of rights afforded by the measure, many of them already guaranteed under state and federal law.   

When the time came to field questions about Question 1, Wolfson exited and refused to respond. Instead, he alleged this reporter was “invading my space,” before chuckling and walking away.

In a subsequent email, Wolfson dismissed concerns that his support of a ballot measure financed by Nicholas, who may face prosecution by Wolfson’s office for felony drug trafficking, constitutes a conflict of interest.   

“I have been a public supporter of Marsy’s Law for over 3 years.  I believe that victims deserve the rights provided by Question 1,” Wolfson said. “The fact that the person who started this organization, as a result of losing his sister to a violent crime, recently picked up a criminal case in Las Vegas, is unrelated and has no bearing on the issue.”

It’s not the first time Nicholas has faced allegations involving illegal drugs.  

He was previously indicted in California for allegedly providing cocaine and Ecstasy to friends and associates.  In a separate indictment, he was alleged to have attempted to avoid regulatory scrutiny by backdating stock options for employees of Broadcom Inc., the tech giant he founded.

Both indictments were dismissed.  

Contribution and expense reports filed with the state indicate Nicholas has personally contributed $680,000 to Marsy’s Law for Nevada since August of 2017.

The Marsy’s Law for All Foundation has contributed $7.9 million to Marsy’s Law for Nevada.

The amendment is named for Nicholas’ sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was murdered in 1983 in California by her ex-boyfriend.

Question 1 advocates say the amendment would provide crime victims with specific rights:

  • Be treated with fairness and respect and be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse throughout the criminal justice process
  • Be reasonably protected from the defendant
  • Have the safety of the victim and victim’s family considered when setting bail
  • Prevent release of information the defendant could use to locate the victim
  • Refuse an interview or deposition unless under court order
  • Reasonably confer with the prosecuting agency
  • Reasonable notice of all public proceedings and be present at all public proceedings
  • Be reasonably heard at any public proceeding  
  • Timely judgment of a case
  • Provide information to officers concerning the impact of the crime on the victim  
  • Be informed of the conviction, sentence, incarceration, and release date of the defendant
  • Full and timely restitution
  • Prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence  
  • Be informed of all post-conviction proceedings
  • Have the safety of the victim, the victim’s family, and the public considered before any parole
  • Have restitution money first applied to the amount ordered to the victim
  • Be informed of the rights in the amendment

Critics contend the proposal is redundant.

In 1996, Nevada voters approved Question 2, which gives crime victims the right to be informed of proceedings, be present at hearings during critical stages, and be heard at sentencing and release proceedings.  Question 1 would remove and replace those provisions in the state constitution.

Marsy’s Law has also resulted in unintended consequences.

The Huffington Post reported this month that in South Dakota, the law led to longer jail stays because of the requirement that victims be notified of a pending release.  

“It overwhelmed some of our systems, and I think some of the true victims this was intended for sort of got lost,” Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead told the Huffington Post.

Six other states — California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio — have approved Marsy’s Law in various forms. The measure was slated to be on five state ballots this November but it was declared unconstitutional by the Kentucky judiciary and removed from consideration. 

The fiscal impact of the measure is unknown.

Currently, offenders pay fees which are distributed to state and local government, as well as victim restitution.  Marsy’s Law will require that restitution payments are completed before funds are allocated to governments.

“Therefore, because the State and local governments will not receive revenue from these sources until full and timely restitution is paid, certain state and local governmental budgets or programs funded by these sources may be affected by a reduction in revenue,” says the Secretary of State’s explanation of 2018 ballot questions.

“In North Carolina their non-partisan fiscal research division determined that it’s going to cost at least $11 million a year,” says Clark County Deputy Public Defender John Piro. “In South Dakota, where they’re working to repeal the amendment, it’s over $100,000 in just one county and going to cost the state upwards of $5 million.”

“I don’t know if there will be a fiscal impact,” said Las Vegas City Councilman Stavos Anthony, a supporter of the measure who said he was unaware of the potential impact on governments. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I don’t think everyone who supports it knows the details,” said Kim Schofield, whose public relations firm represents the ballot measure.  

Henderson City Councilwoman Gerri Schroder noted “Marsy’s Law is about victims of violent crime.”  The amendment makes no distinction between violent and non-violent crimes.

Schroder did not respond to questions about the measure’s potential fiscal impact in Henderson.  

“Lots of the supporters are saying things that are incorrect,” says Piro, who opposes the amendment. “Nobody wants to say I’m against victims.  Coming out against this is not being against victims. It’s coming out against a millionaire trying to buy changes in state constitutions.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.