Jailed ex-elected Vegas official loses bid to get new judge in murder of journalist

Robert Telles appears in court on Oct. 18, 2022.
Robert Telles appears in court on Oct. 18, 2022.(FOX5)
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 9:28 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former elected official lost a bid on Thursday to get a new judge to handle his murder case ahead of trial scheduled in November in the slaying of a Las Vegas investigative journalist.

Supervising Clark County District Court Judge Jerry Wiese II told ex-county administrator of wills and estates Robert Telles that he did not find “bias or prejudice” in 30 minutes of pointed questioning that Judge Michelle Leavitt conducted in open court last month before deciding Telles could fire his lawyer and represent himself.

“Usually it is not in the defendant’s best interest to do that,” Wiese said of Telles’ request to face trial without a lawyer.

Telles claimed Leavitt subjected him to “badgering and character attacks” during about 30 minutes of procedurally required questioning, including “accusations of gamesmanship and questions of mental incompetence” that made him look bad in news reports.

“Her prejudicial conduct was central to the prejudicial media stories,” Telles wrote.

Telles is an attorney who handled civil matters, not criminal, before he was elected as a Democrat as Clark County administrator. His license to practice law has been suspended, but he does not have to be an attorney to represent himself.

Telles is accused of fatally stabbing Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German last September after German wrote articles critical of Telles and his managerial conduct.

Police and prosecutors say the evidence is strong that Telles killed German, including Telles’ DNA found beneath German’s fingernails.

But police say they haven’t completed their investigation because the Review-Journal obtained a court order blocking investigators from accessing records on German’s cellphone and computer devices.

The newspaper cites concerns about improperly exposing confidential sources and notes. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is asking the state Supreme Court to lift that restriction and the appeal remains pending.

In a new development, a panel of three state high court justices ruled this week that Leavitt can adopt a method suggested by police for a neutral party to screen the records so they can be reviewed by both sides and detectives can proceed.

Leavitt has 20 years’ experience as a criminal judge and specializes in handling murder trials. She submitted a sworn document declaring she has “no actual or implied bias or prejudice against Mr. Telles” and she “will not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”

Leavitt is due on April 5 to hear Telles’ bid to have the court appoint a “standby” attorney to assist Telles and answer legal questions. Telles, who remains jailed in Las Vegas, also wants the court to order jailers to loosen detention restrictions and provide a better legal research system so he can prepare his defense.

Telles, 46, maintains that he did not kill German. But he would not tell The Associated Press during a Feb. 14 jail interview what he was doing the day German was attacked and killed in a side yard of German’s house. Telles said he wants to testify before a jury.

German, 69, was widely respected in 44 years of reporting on organized crime, government corruption, political scandals and mass shootings — first at the Las Vegas Sun and then at the Review-Journal.