A Nevada Supreme Court panel, in a split decision, issued a public reprimand against Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia for handling an appeal request from a former county assistant district attorney de Nye, who Arabia sacked in September 2019. This is apparently not the end of the case, however, as Arabia has said he will pursue the case in a bid to have the case reviewed by the whole. of the Supreme Court of Nevada, rather than a simple panel.
The case, No.82173, came before a three-member panel of the Nevada Supreme Court which included Justices Douglas Herndon, Elissa Cadish and Kristina Pickering.
âOn September 15, 2019, Arabia terminated Michael Vieta-Kabell’s employment as deputy prosecutor. Vieta-Kabell maintained that he was fired because he tried to unionize deputy prosecutors, but Arabia claims the dismissal was the result of Vieta-Kabell’s professional performance, âexplains the Supreme Court’s prior opinion from Nevada, released last Thursday. . “Vieta-Kabell filed an appeal against his dismissal with Nye County on September 23, 2019.”
It was this appeal filing that ultimately resulted in the case going to the Nevada Supreme Court.
According to the documents, Nye County Human Resources Director Danelle Shamrell had only scheduled the requested appeal hearing to receive an email from Arabia stating that it was her legal opinion that the hearing should be canceled, as Vieta-Kabell was an “at will”. employee. As such, Arabia said an appeal hearing was not available for Vieta-Kabell. Following legal advice from the county’s senior attorney, Shamrell then canceled the hearing.
Vieta-Kabell responded by filing a grievance with the Nevada State Bar. Arabia has twice attempted to have this complaint dismissed, claiming he was protected by qualified immunity and further arguing that the state bar did not have jurisdiction over him as an elected official. Both of these motions were defeated.
âArabia maintains that he cannot be professionally sanctioned because his actions are entitled to protection under the doctrine of qualified immunity and, therefore, this case should be dismissed. We do not agree, âindicates the option in advance. He goes on to say that qualified immunity generally applies when a plaintiff seeks damages or redress for the actions of a government employee, noting: “A lawyer disciplinary proceeding is not such action”.
As for Arabia’s assertion that the state bar has no jurisdiction because the Nevada Ethics Commission is responsible for disciplining elected officials, the prior opinion states, âWe are not of agreement because the competence of the commission (in matters of ethics) over public officials is not exclusive â.
The Nevada Supreme Court hearing panel then concluded in a 2-1 vote that Arabia had violated two articles of the rule of professional conduct, simultaneously concluding unanimously that those violations were negligent, rather than conscious or intentional. In conclusion, the panel recommended by a 2-1 vote that Arabia be publicly reprimanded and ordered to pay the cost of the disciplinary process.
In conclusion, the prior opinion reads as follows: âA lawyer cannot avoid professional discipline by invoking qualified immunity. In addition, even if a lawyer is an elected official, the state bar has the power to investigate and prosecute alleged breaches of professional conduct and this tribunal, as well as disciplinary boards and hearing commissions, has exclusive jurisdiction to sanction a lawyer when such violations are provenâ¦ Accordingly, we hereby reprimand lawyer Christopher R. Arabia for violations of RPC 1.7 (conflict of interest: current clients) and RPC 8.4 (d ) (misconduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). In addition, Arabia must pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings plus $ 1,500 under SCR 120 (1) and (3) within 30 days from the date of this notice.
The prior opinion has only two signatures, however, as Pickering filed its own document in which it both partially agreed with the opinion and partially dissented.
âI join the court in dismissing both Arabia’s request for qualified immunity and his argument that only the Nevada Ethics Commission can discipline an elected district attorney. I am writing separately because I disagree that the record supports imposed professional discipline, âPickering wrote. “It takes clear and compelling evidence to establish a violation of Nevada’s rules of professional conduct … I find it hard to conclude that the email Arabia sent to the Nye County HR Director … violated the RPC. At most, the email amounted to a negligent and isolated violation of CPR 1.7 (a) (prohibiting concurrent conflicts of interest) that did not cause harm to the customer. The most severe sanction appropriate for such a violation is a warning, not a formal public reprimand. “
Pickering’s statement goes on to note that Arabia was not the only one who believed Vieta-Kabell was not entitled to an appeal hearing regarding his dismissal. âArabia did not believe that the informal review process applied to the MP because he would replace the county manager with the district attorney as the person with the final say on the MP’s dismissal. Still new to the office, Arabia consulted with two longtime deputy chief district attorneysâ¦ They indicated that the review process did not apply to Nye County deputy district attorneys, whose employment was at will and whose hiring and firing of NRS 252,070 made the district attorney prerogative, exclusively, âthe Pickering statement read.
With Pickering declaring his belief that Arabia’s actions do not constitute a public rebuke, Arabia now turns to his own appeal. âIt was a 2-1 decision. We’re looking for a full review by seven people, âArabia told the Pahrump Valley Times when contacted about the situation. “Once this process is complete, I will have an additional comment.”
The Advance Notice, No. 59, can be viewed online at www.nvcourts.gov under the âNevada Appellate Court Opinionsâ link located in the âLegal Resourcesâ drop-down menu.
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at firstname.lastname@example.org