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August 27, 2014

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In hurried appearance, ex-official admits to felonies

Deane pleads guilty to three felony charges that could result in up to 15 years in prison

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Sam Morris

Attorney Danny Hastings looks on as former Clark County Recorder Frances Deane enters a guilty plea a part of a plea bargain in District Court Friday, Aug. 14.

Frances Deane in Court (Aug. 14)

Former Clark County Recorder Frances Deane enters a guilty plea as part of a plea bargain in District Court Friday, Aug. 14. Launch slideshow »
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Frances Deane in July 2002.

The public defender’s office hastily scheduled Friday’s guilty plea in District Court for former Clark County Recorder Frances Deane to try to shield her from the media.

The morning plea, which had been in the works for the past several days, was kept so secret that the prosecutor and the judge who ultimately accepted the plea didn’t find out until less than two hours before it was to take place.

The staff of District Judge Valorie Vega, at the request of the public defender’s office, had asked the clerk’s office in the morning to put the matter on her calendar at 11 a.m. Deane’s change of plea was listed in online court records only a couple of hours in advance.

“We weren’t trying to hide this from anybody,” Public Defender Phil Kohn said late Friday. “We got this scheduled because she was out here, and we wanted to get this done in one day so that she could return to Wisconsin.”

But courthouse sources familiar with the case said the public defender’s office also did not want media attention on Deane to kill the plea agreement. Deane backed out of a similar deal in April 2008 after it was reported in the media.

Deane apparently was in a particularly fragile state of mind coming into court. On her way from Wisconsin Thursday, she hit a deer in Utah and totaled her car. She had to rent a car to make it to Las Vegas.

“This wasn’t an effort to avoid media scrutiny,” one courthouse source said. “This was born out of a desire to facilitate the plea going down. The public defender’s office had big concerns about how she would react to the glare of attention.”

As it was, Deane probably could have walked into the Regional Justice Center past a throng of reporters and gone unnoticed.

She looked nothing like the youthful, vivacious public official she was before she was charged in 2006 in a scheme to profit from her office. She has gained weight and appears much older than when she was last seen in the Las Vegas Valley. She also seemed physically frail as she sat hunched over at the defense table in court, always looking down.

Deane answered several question from Vega with a simple “Yes ma’am,” and when the judge asked her how she was pleading, she responded in a soft voice, “I’m guilty.”

She pleaded guilty to three felony charges that could result in up to 15 years in prison. As part of the plea bargain, however, the district attorney’s office has agreed to stand silent on the question of prison time at her Jan. 14 sentencing.

As Deane left the courtroom with Deputy Public Defender Danny Hastings at her side, she walked stiffly with a cane and wouldn’t even look at a reporter asking for a comment.

During the proceeding, it was obvious that Hastings was not happy about the presence of a Sun reporter and a photographer, the only media representatives in the courtroom. He asked Vega to prohibit the photographer from taking pictures, but Vega denied his request.

After Deane entered her plea, Hastings made a point of telling the judge that Deane “doesn’t want to talk to the media today.”

Sun columnist Jon Ralston reported in his RalstonFlash e-mail, however, that “she called me shortly before she appeared in court, sounding quite distraught and saying she had hit a deer in Utah. Her eyes were blackened, she said.”

“I was going to wear a cute outfit into court and now I have to wear jeans,” she lamented to Ralston.

District Attorney David Roger acknowledged that the circumstances surrounding Deane’s plea were not normal.

“The public defender advised they would approach the court about a special setting, and we told them that was between them and the court,” Roger said. “This was an unusual court hearing inasmuch as every other defendant in the system appears at a normal court calendar.”

Deane pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft, misconduct of a public officer and unlawful commissions, personal profit and compensation of public officers. Fifteen other counts contained in the original charges will be dismissed.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell, who prosecuted Deane, said he was pleased with the deal.

“Not only did she have to quit her job but she will never be able to run again for public office,” Mitchell said. “She also will be a convicted felon. She’s carrying a pretty heavy burden.”

The plea deal also requires Deane to make full restitution to the county.

Deane allegedly pocketed thousands of dollars from the sale of county documents under her control. One businessman famously testified that, in buying documents from Deane, he had $16,000 in cash delivered to her hidden in stuffed animals.

Deane, who was elected recorder in November 2002, was removed her from office by a judge for malfeasance at Roger’s request.

Her trial was delayed five times.

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