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Judge removes herself in Krolicki case over conflict

State approves $415,000 for Vegas lawyer to prosecute Krolicki

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 | 5:23 p.m.

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Lt. Governor and President of the Senate Brian Krolicki talks to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford on the first day of the 2009 legislative session in Carson City.

CARSON CITY – A Las Vegas judge has taken herself off the criminal case of Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, possibly throwing the case back to ground zero in the courts.

Clark County District Judge Elissa Cadish, who has presided over the case, said she does not have any “personal bias or prejudice” toward either Krolicki or the state Attorney General’s Office that is prosecuting the case.

But she has discovered that she was in a law firm in Las Vegas for four months with Steve Scherer, a lawyer who represented Krolicki in the case. Cadish said she never knew about the case and discovered the tie only this month.

Krolicki is accused of mishandling up to $6 million in a college saving plan while he was state treasurer. There was no money missing but he is accused of ignoring state rules in spending.

Krolicki and his chief of staff, who also is accused, maintain their innocence.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said the office is reviewing the options. She said she did not know whether all the prior decisions by Judge Cadish are void.

But Kent Robison, a Reno lawyer representing Krolicki, said the attorney general’s office knew about Scherer representing Krolicki as far back as 2007 when the investigation started. He said the attorney general’s office never raised the issue in prior hearings.

The attorney general’s recent objections to Cadish continuing come at a time when the judge was considering a defense motion to dismiss the grand jury indictment, he said.

“It’s like getting two strikes on a batter and he calls for a new umpire,” said Robison.

District Judge Valerie Adair has been named to succeed Cadish. After reviewing the case, she could rule on the motion to dismiss.

Under judicial rules, a judge could continue to sit on a case in which there is a question of a potential conflict if neither side objects. But the attorney general’s office refused to approve Cadish’s continued jurisdiction.

Cadish was in the Hale Lane law firm until Aug. 10, 2007. Scherer joined the firm in May 2007. She said all cases involving attorneys from Hale Lane were automatically disqualified from practicing before her on the bench for 16 months after she left the firm.

Judge Cadish already had disqualified the attorney general’s office from prosecuting the case, saying it had a conflict of interest because some of the deputy attorney generals had represented Krolicki in government and had advised him.

The disqualification of the attorney general’s office is on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court and it is set for a hearing Aug. 31. It is not known whether this appeal will go forward.

The state Board of Examiners Tuesday approved a $410,000 contract for the attorney general’s office to hire top criminal defense lawyer Dominic Gentile of Las Vegas to be the prosecutor.

The board of examiners Tuesday voted 2-1 for the attorney general’s office to hire Gentile. Gov. Jim Gibbons, the chairman of the three-person board, urged a delay to see if Cadish stepped aside. He said all her rulings could be void.

Masto, also a board member, said she is under orders to hire an outside lawyer because her office has a conflict of interest. She said if she failed to act, she could be held in contempt, and she had signed a contract with Gentile at $345 an hour.

Gibbons suggested the board delay approval of the Gentile contract until the next board meeting because Judge Cadish may have a conflict of interest herself in this case.

Masto said Cadish had been pushing her office all the way to hire private counsel.

Masto and fellow Democratic board member Secretary of State Ross Miller voted to override the objections of Gibbons.

The cost of the contract was not discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Examiners meeting. The top deputy in the attorney general’s office earns $140,000.

Krolicki and his chief of staff Kathryn Besser have pleaded innocent to acts that were taken while he was state treasurer. They are charged in December 2008 with misappropriation and falsification of accounts in the handling of money in a college savings fund under Krolicki’s charge.

Although no was money missing, a legislative audit found that more than $6 million accumulated in fees in the Nevada College Savings Program was spent outside the state’ system and budget controls were bypassed.

Sun capital bureau chief Cy Ryan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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