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Lawyer faces bar complaint over ‘white supremacist’ comment

Updated July 18, 2022 - 5:33 pm

The State Bar of Nevada is calling for prominent defense attorney Ozzie Fumo to be disciplined for referring to a state Supreme Court justice as a “white supremacist” in October.

In a complaint filed Friday, the bar accused Fumo of making a statement “knowing it was false or with reckless disregard as to its falsity” when he said Supreme Court Justice Douglas Herndon was a “white supremacist” who had kicked a deputy public defender out of his courtroom in 2016 after she refused to take off a Black Lives Matter pin.

Attorney Dominic Gentile, who is representing Fumo, declined to comment on the complaint on Monday. Fumo, a former Nevada assemblyman who ran unsuccessfully this year for Clark County district attorney, did not reply to a request for comment.

Video obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal captured Fumo making the remarks while speaking on a panel organized by UNLV’s Black Law Students Association on Oct. 13.

The day after the panel discussion, Fumo announced he was running for Clark County district attorney against 10-year incumbent Steve Wolfson. Fumo lost his bid for the Democratic nomination during June’s primary election after receiving 43.7 percent of the vote.

In October, Wolfson issued a statement calling Fumo’s comments during the UNLV panel discussion “disturbing and unwarranted,” and saying they “violate the ethical behavior of an attorney.”

Herndon and Fumo previously squared off when Fumo left his position in the Legislature to run for an open seat on the Supreme Court, ultimately losing to Herndon in the November 2020 election.

The complaint from the State Bar of Nevada called for the Supreme Court to hold a disciplinary hearing. Fumo has 20 days from the date the complaint was filed to submit a response, according to Supreme Court rules.

State Bar attorney Daniel Hooge wrote in the complaint that Herndon “does not believe that white people constitute a superior race or should dominate society,” and is therefore not a white supremacist.

“Fumo caused injury or potential injury to the legal system,” the complaint states. “African Americans may unfairly distrust the legal system in Nevada and Herndon because of Fumo’s false statement.”

During the panel discussion, Fumo mentioned an incident from 2016 when Herndon, then a Clark County district judge, told then-Deputy Public Defender Erika Ballou to remove a Black Lives Matter pin she wore into his courtroom.

“She had the guts to put on a Black Lives Matter (pin), walk into a courtroom of someone who I considered a white supremacist who’s now in the Supreme Court, but he kicked her out of his courtroom for wearing that pin,” Fumo said, without referencing Herndon by name.

Ballou, who is now a Clark County district judge herself, told Herndon in 2016 that she would not remove the pin and wanted another judge to hear the case. Herndon did not recuse himself but postponed the hearing.

Hooge wrote in the complaint that Herndon did not kick Ballou out of the courtroom, and noted that at the following hearing Ballou removed the pin herself.

Fumo defended his comments during an interview with the Review-Journal in November.

“I said someone who does something like that, I would consider to be a white supremacist,” he said. “Kind of like if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.”

In April, Hooge told the Review-Journal that the bar had opened an investigation regarding Fumo concerning a rule of professional conduct prohibiting an attorney from making a statement “the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.”

He did not say more about what prompted the investigation. Hooge did not immediately reply to a request for comment regarding the complaint on Monday.

Complaint against Osvaldo F… by Las Vegas Review-Journal

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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