Some judges are lionized for their record of moving cases along. Nevada judge Valerie Vega, however, is being ridiculed when she pushed jurors to work through the night in a murder case so that the trial would not interfere with her vacation plans. It appears that things that happen with Vegas do not stay with Vega.
After the six week trial, the jurors were surprised when they were ordered by Vega to begin deliberations at 3 a.m. Jurors complained about trying to stay awake but after thirteen hours of deliberations, they acquitted Victor Fakoya. His attorney Norman Reed objected to the draconian order and asked to poll the jurors to determine their alertness.
Judge Vega was not pleased by such concerns and revealed that she had pressing vacation plans: “I told counsel this case had to be done by Thursday because I am packing up and leaving town and going on vacation for two weeks. It’s been very challenging for the court to juggle and give you two additional weeks and you still didn’t get it done. So for you to come in here and say, ‘I need more time,’ there is no more time.”
Yet, the article below states that Vega kept sessions short during the pendency of the case, including some days where she left after a few hours to watch her daughter play soccer.
Fakoya, 40, was charged with the death of a 2-year-old child left in his care. Police found evidence suggesting physical abuse. Fakoya had sponsored the child and his family who had relocated from Nigeria in December 2007.
For the family, I can only imagine how they feel that a judge prodded a jury to an eventual acquittal after an all-nighter. I am certainly sympathetic with judges having to maintain their families and personal plans. However, murder trials fall into a different category of priority given the interests on both sides. You have a defendant facing life imprisonment and a family who desires justice for the death of their child. It is not the desire to go on a vacation that runs afoul of judicial standards. It is the order (regardless of the reasons) for the all-nighter. Forcing a jury to meet through the night clearly does not convey the importance of their function and does not create conditions for deliberative and serious considerations of the evidence.
Notably, if this had gone the other way to conviction, the defense would have had an interesting appellate claim to overturn the verdict.