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October 24, 2014

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Nevada high court weighs judge’s legitimacy

Gibbons appointee accused of overstaying his term

In an unusual step, the Nevada Supreme Court has launched administrative proceedings to determine whether Family Court Judge Robert Teuton has been violating the state constitution by sitting on the bench since January.

Chief Justice James Hardesty has ordered Teuton and Gov. Jim Gibbons, who appointed him in August 2008, to explain why Teuton shouldn’t be removed from office.

At issue is whether Teuton’s term of office expires in 17 months — or whether it already has.

The issue was raised in a petition to the Supreme Court this year by Las Vegas attorney Robert Lueck, who had competed with Teuton for the appointment to fill the remaining term of retired Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle. The court is independently considering legal arguments in that case.

Lueck contends that under the constitution, Teuton’s appointment expired Jan. 5 because he didn’t run in the November general election.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who represents the governor, doesn’t share that opinion. She argues that Teuton was unable to run in November because he was appointed too late, by law, to get his name on the November ballot. Therefore, his term expires in January 2011, following the November 2010 general election.

On Wednesday, Lueck said the Supreme Court’s action shows it has concerns about the legality of Teuton’s remaining on the bench.

“This means the court is taking the constitutional provisions very seriously,” he said. “They’ve accepted my basic contentions.”

Hardesty invited the Family Law Section of the Nevada State Bar to weigh in on the issue, and it has filed a brief supporting the attorney general’s position. But Teuton, who believes he’s legally entitled to continue serving on the bench, has yet to respond in writing.

•••

Stephen Corso is a big-time government witness who risked his life wearing a wire to testify against the mob.

His testimony in 2006 helped convict the so-called “Mafia cops,” retired New York City detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, of participating in a string of mob killings while on the police force.

But the 54-year-old Corso — a former Connecticut accountant who cooperated with the government after he was charged with stealing more than $5 million from his clients — also comes with baggage.

Last March his testimony led to a mistrial in a spinoff drug case in Las Vegas against Eppolito’s son, Anthony, and co-defendant Guido Bravatti.

And now federal prosecutors have indicated it might not be worth it to put Corso back on the witness stand.

They have informed defense lawyers that they are considering not calling Corso for the Sept. 1 retrial, which has set up legal intrigue behind the scenes.

Defense lawyers say in court papers that they might have to subpoena Corso as one of their witnesses if the government doesn’t call him to the stand. And they are questioning whether prosecutors should be allowed to introduce crucial video and audiotapes made by Corso during the investigation.

Complicating matters is that Corso is set to surrender to federal prison authorities Wednesday to begin serving a 366-day sentence for his own crimes.

There also is talk that Anthony Eppolito and Bravatti may be “interested” in plea bargains.

U.S. District Judge Philip Pro has drawn the task of sorting it all out at a hearing Friday.

•••

The County Commission this week approved the appointment of Steve Grierson as the top executive officer in District Court.

But it wasn’t a slam dunk.

Grierson negotiated an annual salary of a little more than $137,000, which was about $10,000 less than that of his predecessor, Ed Friedland. Judges said he was worth at least that much because he was underpaid as the assistant court administrator for the past 12 years.

County commissioners grumbled that the salary amounted to a too-generous 26 percent raise for Grierson.

In the end, they gave Grierson and the judges what they wanted.

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