Government

A judge with connections to both the victim and defendant refuses recusal

Vegas is a small town.

You hear that all the time, but it only hits home when you read stories like this:

Remember the Biker Bandit? The guy who put on a motorcycle helmet and robbed $1.5 million in chips from a Bellagio craps table? Well, the police recently charged Anthony Carleo with that crime. And, more recently, Carleo pled not guilty.

But to whom did Carleo plead? To Judge Michelle Leavitt. Now, here’s where things get interesting: Judge Leavitt’s brother deals craps at Bellagio, and Judge Leavitt is a political supporter of Carleo’s father, a Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge. In other words, Judge Leavitt has connections to the victim (Bellagio) and to the defendant (Carleo).

In an American legal trial, when a judge has a connection to either party (or the spouse of either party, or the immediate kin of either party), that judge is supposed to let another judge handle the matter. It’s called recusal. So, in this situation, Judge Leavitt must have felt that her connections were too tenuous to necessitate a judge swap.

And, apparently, both parties agreed. We know that because if a judge fails to recuse herself, either party may make a motion requesting a substitute judge. Of course, when this motion is not granted, the penalty is steep: You’ve got a personally offended judge on your hands.

Or maybe, in this particular case, bias isn’t an issue because Judge Leavitt’s connections cancel each other out.

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