By Hans Sherrer
Justice Denied’s editor and publisher
January 10, 2018
Deborah Norville should be at the front of the line of people Kirstin Blaise Lobato thanks for her release from custody on January 3, 2018. Without Ms. Norville, Ms. Lobato would likely have been imprisoned until her mandatory release from prison in June 2021.* It is debatable if her convictions would have ever been overturned and her charges dismissed without Ms. Norville. But even if so, it would have likely been years in the future, and after her mandatory release.
When an innocent person is released from prison the news media almost never gets it right about who is actually responsible for the person being freed. The grossly inaccurate reporting by the media after Ms. Lobato’s release is no exception. Ms. Norville’s irreplaceable contribution to the dismissal of Ms. Lobato’s charges was predictably ignored.
Ms. Norville is the host of Inside Edition: a nationally syndicated television news-entertainment program based in New York City. What she did for Ms. Lobato was provide invaluable national exposure to the bizarre behavior of Clark County District Court Judge Valorie Vega that culminated in her leaving office on January 5, 2015.
Judge Vega was Kirstin Lobato’s nemesis — she left no stone unturned to torment her. She was her Inspector Javert. Ms. Lobato could never get justice in her courtroom. So the day Vega left office was one of the most important days of Ms. Lobato’s life.
Judge Vega presided over Ms. Lobato’s trial in 2002 and her retrial in 2006 that both resulted in her conviction of charges related to Duran Bailey’s July 2001 homicide in Las Vegas. In addition, Vega in August 2011 denied Ms. Lobato’s habeas corpus petition filed in May 2010. Vega also summarily denied in July 2011 her petition for post-conviction DNA testing of crime scene evidence — including evidence that was likely handled by Bailey’s assailant!
Judge Vega’s openly pro-prosecution cheerleading in Ms. Lobato’s case is legendary. From May 2002 to August 2011 she made more than 270 consecutive significant rulings beneficial to the Clark County District Attorney’s Office that were contrary to Ms. Lobato’s position or requested relief. Justice Denied reported that Vega didn’t even read Ms. Lobato’s habeas petition before denying it in 2011. (At the bottom of this article is a list of articles Justice Denied published over more than ten years documenting Judge Vega’s conduct.)
On September 7, 2010 Ms. Lobato filed a motion for Vega’s recusal/disqualification from presiding over her habeas proceeding. The motion stated: “Judge Vega is a material witness in that petition’s Grounds fifty-two; she has a conflict-of-interest and pre-judgment in Grounds forty-six, sixty,sixty-one and seventy-five; during the hearing she conducted on July 15, 2010, she demonstrated manifest bias against the Petitioner and a complete lack of impartiality and fairness required of a judge, and she has publicly expressed her opinion the Petitioner is guilty of murdering Duran Bailey.” On October 1, 2010 Ms. Lobato filed a Supplement to her recusal motion that added five additional grounds for Vega’s removal.
The DA’s Office responded by not just wanting Ms. Lobato’s recusal motion denied, they wanted it stricken from the record. Determination of the motion was assigned to Judge Douglas Smith. He summarily denied it on October 20, 2010 without addressing a single one of the legal reasons for Vega’s recusal, instead he stated Vega “is a fine judge.”
Ms. Lobato’s attempt to use the legal system for Vega’s removal from her case was unsuccessful.
After orally denying Ms. Lobato’s petition by reading the DA’s opposition to her petition, Vega had the DA’s Office write the “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order” that she signed denying the petition. In August 2011 Ms. Lobato appealed Vega’s ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Vega’s January 2015 retirement wasn’t what she wanted. However, she was facing certain defeat if she ran for re-election in the November 2014 election. Rather than face the humiliation of being an incumbent voted out of office, she chose to “retire.” She would have been defeated because of negative consequences from her conduct during the murder retrial of Victor Fakoya in November and December 2010.
During Fakoya’s trial on at least six occasions she adjourned court early so she could attend her daughter’s soccer games — the last time on December 15. She lied to the prosecutors and Fakoya’s lawyers about why she recessed court early on those days. That was only a prelude for what Vega did on December 16 and December 17. Vega didn’t adjourn the court at 5 p.m., or 6 p.m., or at anytime on the 16th. She kept court in session continuously after 1 p.m. for 18 hours. The trial concluded after midnight on the 17th. Fakoya’s public defender and the prosecution then made their closing arguments. After which Vega read the jury their instructions. She then had the jury begin deliberations at 2:46 a.m.!
Fakoya’s public defenders didn’t object to Vega’s behavior, only raising their concern the jurors could be too exhausted to fairly deliberate. Judge Vega exploded in responding: “I told counsel that this case had to be done by Thursday because I’m packin’ up and leaving town and going on vacation for two weeks!” After being forced by Vega to deliberate all night, the jury acquitted Fakoya about 7 a.m., and court was finally adjourned.
On December 22, 2010 KLAS-TV in Las Vegas ran a segment about Fakoya’s jurors deliberating all night.
Deborah Norville and Inside Edition picked up and greatly expanded on the story that Vega conducted Fakoya’s trial to fit her personal schedule — when he was facing a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted. For Inside Edition’s story Fakoya’s public defenders and jurors were interviewed on camera about their reactions to Vega’s behavior. Norville’s report broadcast on January 11, 2011 resulted in Vega being a laughing stock across the country (and internationally via the Internet). Norville’s reporting made Vega’s weird behavior during Fakoya’s trial a national story that couldn’t be covered-up or ignored.
After Vega’s unjudicious conduct during Fakoya’s trial was reported nationally by Ms. Norville, a complaint was filed with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline. Charges were filed against Vega. The Commission accused her of violating the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct by keeping court in session continuously for 18 hours from 1:12 p.m. on December 16 until after 7 a.m. on December 17 (Count 1); and for recessing court in the early afternoon on six days from Nov. 29 to Dec. 15 so she could watch her daughter’s soccer games (Count 2). A Count 3 related to the testimony of an expert witness was later dismissed.
On February 5, 2013 Vega agreed to a stipulated agreement with the Commission and admitted to committing Counts 1 and 2. She also admitted she did so to fit her “personal schedule” and her behavior was “not courteous to the individuals involved at trial.”
Knowing that the Commission’s Order finding her guilty was soon to be publicly released, and that an opponent would be expected to run ads of her being made a laughing-stock by Ms. Norville on national television, Vega announced in July 2013 that she would not run for re-election.
Vega was “publicly reprimanded” on August 29, 2013 when the Commission issued its unanimous Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order Imposing Discipline.
When Vega left office in January 2015 the Nevada Supreme Court had not yet ruled on Ms. Lobato’s appeal of Vega’s summary denial of her habeas petition.
In November 2016 the NSC issued it ruling. Ms. Lobato’s case was remanded to the district court to resolve two issues: 1) Hold an evidentiary hearing to determine if Ms. Lobato’s trial lawyers provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to investigate and present forensic evidence establishing Bailey died in Las Vegas at a time that the prosecution admitted she was 170 miles away in Panaca; and, 2) Determine if Ms. Lobato could raise her claim of actual innocence in a habeas petition, and if so, what proof and evidence standards would apply to evaluating it?
With Vega gone, Ms. Lobato’s case was assigned to District Court Judge Stefany Miley. On December 19, 2017 Judge Miley granted her petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel by her trial lawyers and ordered a new trial, after holding an evidentiary hearing in October 2017.
On December 29, 2017 Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez granted the DA’s motion to dismiss the charges against her with prejudice. On January 3, 2018 Ms. Lobato was released after spending a total of more than 15 years in custody after her arrest on July 20, 2001.
It is 100% certain from Vega’s history in Ms. Lobato’s case that if she had still been a judge she would have ruled against Ms. Lobato when her case was remanded by the NSC. Lobato would have then had to appeal again to the NSC. If they ruled against her she would have had to proceed to federal court where a habeas case can take years to resolve, and very few are granted each year.
Kirstin Lobato owes her freedom today to Vega being “forced” to retire, which paved the way for Judge Miley to be assigned the case.
Nothing anyone did when Lobato’s case was remanded by the NSC would not have made any difference if Vega had still been a judge, and she would have been if it hadn’t been for Deborah Norville.
Click here to see Deborah Norville’s Inside Edition report about Judge Vega that was first broadcast on January 11, 2011. Inside Edition rebroadcast the report, but it isn’t known how many times it did so.
Justice Denied published the following articles over more than ten years documenting Judge Vega’s unconscionable conduct:
* Las Vegas Police and Prosecutors Frame Woman 170 Miles From Murder Scene – Kirstin Lobato’s “Very Peculiar Story”, October 1, 2004
(“In a masterful frame-up that may be marveled at for decades as a text book case of how the three branches of the legal system interact to ensure a wrongful conviction, prosecutors worked hand-in-glove with the police to orchestrate, in the courtroom of an overtly compliant judge, the conviction of a plainly innocent young woman.”)
* Kirstin Blaise Lobato Has Twice Been Wrongly Convicted Because Of ‘Tragic Choices’, January 29, 2007
(“Judge Vega made the tragic choice early on in Blaise’s case to function as an arm of the prosecution. That is not surprising given that she went directly from being a 33-year-old Clark County felony prosecutor to being a Clark County judge thanks to a political appointment that allowed her to initially bypass the election process. Two of her rulings in Blaise’s first trial were so prejudicially favorable to the prosecution that they caused the Nevada Supreme Court to overturn Blaise’s conviction and order a new trial.”)
* Possibility Of Guilt Replaces Proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: Las Vegas Detectives, Prosecutors And Judge Orchestrate Kirstin Blaise Lobato’s Serial Rape By The Legal System, February 1, 2007
(“It was evident from Vega’s pre-trial rulings that she was going to allow the prosecutors free-reign to run a replay of Blaise’s first trial.”)
* Is Valorie Vega The Most Corrupt Judge In The United States?, December 21, 2010
(“The ultimate corruption of a judge is to elevate their desired outcome for a case above the outcome dictated by the actual facts and the applicable law(s). Judge Vega’s conduct during the entirety of Ms. Lobato’s case can be interpreted that she used her position as a judge to ensure Ms. Lobato was convicted, and her enmity against Ms. Lobato is further suggested by her unusually harsh sentence.”)
* Judge Valorie Vega Publicly Lied About The Jurors Who Support A New Trial For Kirstin Blaise Lobato, March 7, 2011
(“It is not known why Judge Vega resorted to blatantly lying in an effort to denigrate the juror’s determination that “it is in the interest of justice that Ms. Lobato be granted a new trial” based on her new evidence she had nothing to do with Mr. Bailey’s murder and was 170 miles from Las Vegas when the crime occurred.”)
* Judge Valorie Vega’s Rulings Have Overwhelmingly Benefited The Clark County District Attorney In Kirstin Blaise Lobato’s Case: — and the odds Judge Vega’s rulings have benefited the CCDA by chance are 1 in 4.74284398 × 1080, March 17, 2011
(“From Ms. Lobato’s trial in May 2002 to March 1, 2011 Judge Vega’s made 270 consecutive significant rulings beneficial to the Clark County District Attorney’s Office that were contrary to Ms. Lobato’s position or requested relief. … the odds are trillions and trillions and trillions times greater that a person will win a $100 million Powerball jackpot after buying a single ticket than that Judge Vega by chance ruled to the benefit of the Clark County District Attorney and to the detriment of Ms. Lobato from May 2002 to March 2011. Undermining that Judge Vega’s rulings were by chance and not design is they are indistinguishable from the rulings that would have been made if a Clark County Assistant District Attorney had presided over Ms. Lobato’s trials and her habeas corpus petition – since Judge Vega ruled as Clark County’s District Attorney wanted her to.”)
* Judge Valorie Vega Didn’t Read Kirstin Blaise Lobato’s Habeas Corpus Petition Before Denying It, March 26, 2011
(“The totality of Judge Vega’s conduct during the hearing was consistent with her denying Ms. Lobato’s habeas corpus petition without having read it and having knowledge and understanding of the details of that petition’s 79 grounds for a new trial and the 101 exhibits supporting those grounds, and that she did not author the document she read.”)
* Judge Valorie Vega Is A Modern Day Judge Roland Freisler, June 28, 2011
(“Roland Freisler was a judge in Germany from 1942 until his death in 1945. … Judge Freisler unabashedly represented the interests of the government’s prosecutors and his conduct sets a benchmark to evaluate the independence of other judges. … There are judges in countries around the world who conduct themselves as Judge Freisler did. One of these is Clark County, Nevada District Court Judge Valorie Vega. Judge Vega rates a 10 on the Freisler Scale by her unrelenting prosecution favorable conduct in the case of Nevada v. Kirstin Blaise Lobato.”)
* Judge Valorie Vega Charged With Ethics Violations, August 11, 2012
(“Justice Denied is following the NCJD’s case against Judge Vega’s because she was the judge in the Kirstin Blaise Lobato case. Before her conduct during Fakoya’s trial was reported, Justice Denied’s editor and publisher Hans Sherrer wrote the article “Is Judge Valorie Vega the Most Corrupt Judge in the United States?,” which can be read by clicking here.”)
* Nevada Supreme Court Rules Judge Vega’s Denial Of Post-conviction DNA Testing Can’t Be Appealed, January 14, 2012
(“In February 2011 Ms. Lobato filed a Petition Requesting Post-Conviction DNA Testing Pursuant To NRS §176.0918. … Judge Vega denied the petition. Her written Order denying the petition was filed on July 27, 2011 … Ms. Lobato filed a Notice of Appeal … The Nevada Supreme Court ruled on January 12, 2012 that a district court’s denial of post-conviction DNA testing cannot be appealed.”)
* Kirstin Lobato Is Fortunate The Nevada Supreme Court Is Taking Its Time Reviewing Her Case, October 5, 2015
(If the Nevada Supreme Court had remanded Ms. Lobato’s appeal of Judge Vega’s denial of her habeas petition while Vega was still a judge, Vega would have had the opportunity to again deny it.)
* Endnote 1. The NDOC website on January 2, 2018 listed Kirstin Blaise Lobato’s mandatory release date as June 19, 2001.