A District Attorney has a unique role in the County because his primary responsibility is to ascertain the truth and seek justice. While defense attorneys vigorously defend their clients whether guilty or not, a District Attorney must prosecute the guilty and protect the innocent. The only obligation I have every day is to do the right thing.
As a District attorney I never lose sight of the harsh reality that courtrooms are grim places. Criminal cases involve violence, pain, and sorrow – both to the victim and to the defendant through sentencing and punishment. I understand that I wield a great power – the ability to strip an individual of liberty and even of life itself. As a result, emotions always run high. In almost every case, the victim and the victim’s family are mad at me for not doing more and the defendant and the defendant’s family swear that I am destroying the reputation and life of an innocent man. For this reason, it is challenging and emotional work. It is extremely draining. The only satisfaction I get comes from knowing that I did my best to ensure our criminal justice system operates effectively and fairly. Fairness is the deepest value of our society.
Last year I charged Ken Higbee with 225 counts of fraud, theft, forgery, and misuse of public funds. Immediately, I received threats from his friends and family. I understand their feelings because in my experience the guilty rarely admit their guilt to their friends and family. Mr. Higbee, like most defendants in his position, wants to save face. He will spin the story to friends and family until his dying breath. So, I don’t blame his friends and family. They just haven’t seen the evidence.
Normally, I don’t comment on active cases, but with Mr. Higbee’s attorneys Bret Whipple and Lanny Waite spreading misinformation I feel obligated to reply in this case.
First, on several occasions Mr. Whipple and Mr. Waite have stated that Mr. Higbee merely took money “for the kids” and “all he was trying to do was help the community” insinuating that he was being charged only for redirecting school district money to the PVHS football team. This is false. The charges allege personal purchases Mr. Higbee made for himself, for his wife Becky, and for his children. Additionally, the charges allege that Mr. Higbee forged signatures and vendor invoices to hide these personal purchases.
Second, Mr. Whipple and Mr. Waite have stated, “there was no evidence to support the allegations.” Again, this is false. In fact, there were thousands of documents entered into evidence in the case. I had these documents organized into binders to make it easier for Mr. Higbee and his attorneys to follow. Judge Cowley oversaw the preliminary hearing and recognized the evidence as authentic. Mr. Whipple and Mr. Waite filed a motion to disqualify Judge Fairman to get Judge Dobrescu. Then they presented Judge Dobrescu with a writ of habeas corpus. This writ of habeas corpus is a civil suit against Sheriff Lee for holding Mr. Higbee in custody without a preliminary hearing. Mr. Higbee was not in the Sheriff’s custody. He never was. He also had a preliminary hearing. I cited several cases that explicitly stated that a civil suit against Sheriff Lee should not be treated like a pretrial appeal or act as a substitute for a normal post-trial appeal. Judge Dobrescu granted Mr. Higbee’s writ of habeas corpus anyway. Under NRS 34.480, Judge Dobrescu only has authority to discharge Mr. Higbee from Sheriff Lee’s custody. Again, this is a little counterintuitive because he was never in the Sheriff’s actual custody. Essentially, Judge Dobrescu voided Mr. Higbee’s original preliminary hearing because he didn’t like how the binders were organized, marked, and placed into evidence. At this point, I can either appeal Judge Dobrescu’s order or simply hold a new preliminary hearing. Although, I feel confident in my chances for success on appeal, it will take too long. So, I will just hold a new preliminary hearing. Eventually, I will get a fair trial. One thing that Judge Dobrescu and I agree on is that the whole process is a colossal waste of everyone’s time.
I know that Mr. Higbee and some of his supporters are backing Mr. Frehner in the upcoming election because of this case. Again, I understand their decision. For me it is better to do what is right and lose than to do what is easy and win.
Daniel M. Hooge,
Lincoln County District Attorney