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Criminal Justice | Government

Judge again tells felon to behave because Trump "could use your vote"

Regional Justice Center as seen on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

A Clark County judge has again suggested that felons who meet probation requirements would be able to cast a ballot for President Donald Trump in the 2020 election and that the Republican president “could use your vote.”

The Nevada Independent uncovered another instance of Clark County District Court Judge Susan Johnson telling a defendant in her court that she could vote for Trump if she meets all of her probation requirements, the third such publicly reported instance. Johnson previously told The Nevada Independent that she made the comments as a joke to put probationers “at ease,” and apologized for “offending anyone.”

In a sentencing hearing on Aug. 31, Johnson accepted a plea deal from defendant Monique Fresquez — in court on a felony charge of attempting to obtain and use another person’s identification —  and outlined the various steps she would need to take to complete her parole — including obtaining a high school diploma or GED, abstention from alcohol and drug use and full time employment or a minimum weekly community service.

If she followed all those steps, Johnson said that Fresquez would have all of her rights restored — including the ability to vote for Trump.

“What I’m hoping is that you will do everything you’re supposed to do so that you can get all of your civil rights, your liberties, restored to you,” she said. “Okay? So if you do everything I tell you to do, you will have your civil rights restored in about three years. You’ll be able to vote for Mr. Trump, I’m sure he could use your vote.”

The Nevada Independent previously reported that Johnson had told at least two defendants pleading guilty to felony charges that they would be able to vote for President Donald Trump’s re-election if they successfully complete the requirements on their parole.

Jack Buchanan, Fresquez’s attorney at the time, did not return calls from The Nevada Independent on Thursday.

In a statement, Johnson said that the comments about Trump were “intended to serve as an example of what the restoration of civil rights means.”

“It was meant to be informational only and was, in no way, intended as an endorsement of any candidate,” she said in an email. “I have since revised how I present the information so there is no misinterpretation.”

Joel Mann, an attorney for one of the defendants told by Johnson that they could vote for Trump, said in an earlier email that he did not take the judge’s comments as a joke and was “shocked about what I was hearing.”

Nevada’s judicial code of conduct includes several provisions designed to prevent judges from engaging in overt political behavior from the bench. One provision says judges cannot “publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for any public office.” The code also says justices cannot express “words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment” based on several factors including “political affiliation.”

In Nevada, district court is a nonpartisan office, and Johnson’s party affiliation is considered confidential. Other than donations to her own campaign, Johnson’s sole political donation was $500 made to a PAC registered to Dave McKeon, a former Clark County Republican Party chairman and current Republican candidate for Congress.

Nevada law prohibits people convicted of a violent felony from voting unless they receive court permission to have their rights restored. The law also allows for other felons to have their civil rights — including the right to vote — be automatically restored upon release from prison or successful discharge from probation or parole.

Johnson was first elected to the bench in 2006, and won re-election to a second term in 2014. She’s married to fellow District Court Judge Eric Johnson.

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