Former elected official held in Vegas journalist's killing has new lawyer, wants to go to trial

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former elected official accused of killing a Las Vegas investigative reporter wants to go to trial in March, his new lawyer said Thursday, after a supervisory judge rejected his second bid to remove the state court judge overseeing his case.

Robert Draskovich, a criminal defense attorney who has handled several high-profile cases during more than 25 years in practice, told The Associated Press that Robert “Rob” Telles has hired him to represent him at trial, currently set to begin March 18.

“We anticipate keeping the current trial date,” Draskovich said.

Gary Modafferi, another lawyer who has advised Telles on pretrial matters, declined Thursday to comment.

Telles, now 47, was once the Democratic county administrator of estates. He has pleaded not guilty to murder in the September 2022 death of Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German and has remained jailed without bail while serving as his own defense attorney. A court hearing is scheduled Feb. 7.

German, 69, spent more than 40 years as an investigative reporter in Las Vegas. He was found stabbed to death in September 2022 outside his home, months after he wrote articles critical of Telles and his managerial conduct.

Telles is a law school graduate who practiced civil law before he was elected in 2018 as Clark County administrator. He was stripped of his elected position and his law license was suspended following his arrest. He has hired and fired several attorneys and was represented for a time by public defenders.

Telles could face life in prison if he is convicted. Prosecutors decided he won’t face the death penalty.

Telles told the AP during a February 2023 jail interview that he had evidence that exonerates him, but he declined to produce it. He said he wanted to go to trial as soon as possible and tell his story to a jury.

He has argued repeatedly in writing and during court appearances that he has been framed, that police mishandled the investigation, and that the judge overseeing his case, Clark County District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt, has a “deep-seated bias” against him.

A ruling on Wednesday by the supervising state court judge in Las Vegas rejected Telles' latest effort to remove Leavitt from the case.

“A reasonable person, knowing all of the facts, would not question Judge Leavitt’s impartiality,” Chief District Court Judge Jerry Wiese II wrote in a six-page order that followed written filings from Telles and Leavitt and oral arguments last week. Wiese noted it was the second time Telles asked him to remove Leavitt. Wiese rejected a similar effort last April.

Telles lost a Democratic party primary just months before German's death, and prosecutors say the evidence is overwhelming that Telles killed German — including DNA believed to be from Telles found beneath German’s fingernails and videos showing a man believed to be Telles walking near German’s home about the time of the killing.

The police investigation and progress toward trial were slowed by a court order the Review-Journal obtained that blocked authorities from accessing what the newspaper maintained could be confidential files on the slain reporter’s cellphone and computers.

The newspaper argued that names and unpublished material on German’s devices were protected from disclosure by the First Amendment and Nevada state law. Police said their investigation wouldn’t be complete until the devices were searched.

The state Supreme Court on Oct. 5 approved letting Leavitt appoint a retired U.S. magistrate judge and a former Clark County district attorney now serving as counsel for the Las Vegas police union as an independent team to screen the records for confidentiality before being opened by police.