Clark County Judge Michelle Leavitt is declining to say why she disqualified herself from a domestic violence case eight months after sentencing the defendant to more than forty years in prison.
“To avoid the appearance of impropriety and implied bias, this Court hereby disqualifies itself and Orders the case be reassigned at random,” says the August 2 notation in the case of Marlon Brown.
The move comes days after Leavitt claimed in a brief to the Nevada Supreme Court that allegations of bias leveled against her by the defendant’s attorney are “completely frivolous.”
Brown, the defendant, was the owner of the now-defunct Top Knotch, an apparel store resembling a strip club, alleged by Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson to be a front for prostitution and a place where underaged girls were welcome.
It’s where Tobiasson’s then-teen daughter socialized with Shane Valentine. Valentine is an alleged pimp who attempted to recruit Tobiasson’s daughter. He was also the roommate of Leavitt’s daughter, Morgan Fitzpatrick.
In court testimony reported last year by the Current, Fitzpatrick relayed how Valentine ordered two women to beat her after a night’s work for an escort service. Valentine was not charged in connection with the assault.
Brown’s attorney alleged in an appeal motion to the Supreme Court that Leavitt was biased because her daughter had been engaged in a domestic violence incident with Valentine, an African American man. Brown is also African American.
“According to a police memorandum obtained by the Nevada Current, Judge (Melanie) Tobiasson ‘notified (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police) Detective (Kelly) Bluth that Valentine appeared to be the same person who had pimped Judge Leavitt’s daughter, and warned him that pimps were targeting the daughters of judges and police for prostitution,’” Brown’s attorney, Craig Mueller wrote, quoting the Current’s story in his appeal brief to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Brown’s attorney says he was unaware when he filed the motion of the seemingly more significant link between Brown, the owner of Top Knotch, and Valentine, who according to Tobiasson, frequented the store.
In a July 29 response to Mueller’s allegations, Leavitt’s attorneys wrote that “The only relevance Attorney Mueller could muster up to support citation to this blatantly false and irrelevant information is Judge Leavitt should have disclosed this, because it could have impeded her impartiality in this matter.”
“The purpose of this Emergency Motion is to point out how completely frivolous this argument is,” Leavitt’s attorneys wrote.
“Attorney Mueller’s sole cited source for this scandalous and blatantly false material is the Nevada Current, an online blog-type website that has no established credibility,” Judge Leavitt’s brief to the Supreme Court says.
Judge Leavitt’s brief was submitted by the Law Office of Andrew M. Leavitt, the Leavitt Law Firm, which lists attorneys Dennis M. Leavitt and Frank A. Leavitt, and the Law Offices of Kermitt L. Waters, which includes James J. Leavitt.
On August 2, within days of calling Mueller’s objections “frivolous” and a “false and unwarranted personal attack on Judge Leavitt and her daughter,” Leavitt recused herself from Brown’s case, eight months after sentencing him to prison.
Judge Leavitt has declined to say whether she was aware that Brown was the owner of Top Knotch.
Mueller says it’s “unusual” for a judge to recuse long after the trial and sentencing.
“Occasionally, people discover conflicts after the fact,” he said.
“Generally speaking, judges recuse themselves when they become aware of a potential conflict or a conflict develops,” court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said in a statement to the Current. “That may be at the beginning of a case or during the course of the case.”
Metro Police say Valentine is a person of interest in the unsolved 2016 murders of Nehemiah Kauffman and Sydney Land, who were executed in their Las Vegas apartment.
Valentine was convicted in late 2016 of shooting and driving into the home of Kauffman’s mother just weeks before the double murder.
In a transcript of grand jury testimony posted on the Clark County court website, Kaufmann alleges in text messages that Valentine is a police informant.
“You the cops homie!!!” Kaufmann texted Valentine on October 8, the day of the shooting at Kauffman’s mother’s home. “I heard you a snitch bruh!!!”
Valentine is in prison on a burglary conviction. He was scheduled for parole in July but was transferred before the hearing, according to the Parole Board, which has yet to reschedule.
Although Valentine’s cases are closed, one has been administratively assigned to newly-appointed Judge Jaqueline Bluth.
Bluth was the chief deputy district attorney over the homicide division before becoming a judge. Her husband is Metro detective Kelly Bluth, who investigated Tobiasson’s concerns about Top Knotch, found it to be unusual for a clothing store, according to Tobiasson, but never followed up.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect an error in Brown’s sentence. The original version said “more than four years.” It should have said “more than forty.”