By Matt Ward
Talk about bad timing.
The newly-appointed acting Esmeralda County district attorney started his new job with a bang: He was caught driving on a suspended driver’s license.
Robert Glennen, who took over for former county DA Arthur Wehrmeister, effective June 30, was stopped near Schurz several days ago and cited.
The Pahrump Valley Times caught up with the former Nye County chief deputy district attorney Monday as he was at his local DMV office attempting to prove the suspension was erroneous.
“That’s exactly what I needed to start off this new era,” Glennen said sarcastically.
A new era indeed.
Glennen replaces Wehrmeister, a former Nye County DA who announced his resignation in a brief missive to Esmeralda County commissioners on June 12.
Wehrmeister was elected in 2010 and took office Jan. 3, 2011. His tenure follows what can best be described as a string of district attorneys, who for one reason or another, never quite lived up to the expectations of county leaders.
Though Wehrmeister is loathe to admit that his short term follows a similar pattern of disappointment, interviews with numerous officials and local attorneys suggest his truncated stint as DA was rocky at best.
Glennen had only recently become Wehrmeister’s deputy DA, replacing another longtime attorney who was forced to quit after an injury. Glennen would only hint at the friction that developed between Wehrmeister and county officials.
“You’re going to have times when you’re at odds,” he said. “We will be able to work well; I’m hoping we make sure everybody works well together. We are going to have differences, but I look forward to working with everybody.”
Glennen said he would be among candidates applying to serve out the remainder of Wehrmeister’s four-year term, an appointment commissioners are expected to make in the next 90 days.
Wehrmeister first hired Glennen on April Fool’s Day in 1991 to become a prosecutor in Nye County. Glennen admitted he is loyal to Wehrmeister for giving him his start so long ago.
A man who has zero loyalties to Wehrmeister is attorney Chris Arabia, a Las Vegas conflict attorney who handles public defender cases in Esmeralda on behalf of Pahrump law firm Gibson and Kuehn.
Arabia said he was surprised at Wehrmeister’s sudden resignation – sort of.
“I was a little surprised at the timing of the resignation. But in a broader sense, I had my doubts whether or not he was going to finish out his term.”
Arabia ran for DA in 2010.
As a contract public defender in Esmeralda County, he said he personally witnessed a number of courtroom blunders during criminal proceedings being led by Wehrmeister’s office. Asked to sum up the quality of the prosecutor’s work since 2010, Arabia provided a one-word answer.
Justice of the Peace Juanita Colvin, a 20-year veteran of her office, has seen Esmeralda DAs come and go. She didn’t wish to say anything ugly about Wehrmeister, especially since he was leaving. She did say she was happy to be entering a new chapter in local jurisprudence.
“I don’t want to say anything derogatory. I’d just rather move on,” she said.
Of persistent criticisms emanating out of Esmeralda County about Wehrmeister, she said the one she heard most was his inability to keep regular office hours.
“He just hasn’t been in the office. The only gripe that I would have, that anybody would have, is that he just wasn’t in the office enough and had to have a deputy DA do his criminal work,” she said after some prodding.
The persistent issue that county officials have dealt with over and over, Colvin says, is that DAs tend to miscalculate the amount of work they will do once in office.
“I think maybe they base it on the fact that we have a low population they think that it’s a semi-retirement job and it’s not. We have a full-time civil caseload, too, with county issues as well as the criminal. It’s a little bit more than they expect,” she said.
County Commissioner Bill Kirby echoed those sentiments. He said Wehrmeister was a victim of this miscalculation and soon was either unable to fulfill his duties to the county or simply did not wish to work so hard.
“Art’s job, in my opinion, could have been a part-time position if Arthur had asked the commission to arrange it; however, he didn’t, and to put it kindly, he couldn’t seem to handle his workload and found our legal requirements, like taking Gold Point back from the Federal Government, and many other things too difficult,” Kirby wrote in an email response to a reporter’s questions.
After Esmeralda’s long bout with under-performing DAs — Kirby said he and Wehrmeister’s predecessor, Todd Leventhal, who also resigned from the job, had at least one “knock-down, drag-out” fight in commission chambers over shenanigans involving county business — county commissioners wrote and got passed a bill draft request that better defined their DA’s job duties.
The law took effect in October 2011 and essentially gave commissioners new powers to force DAs to work, or face consequences, including withholding of pay.
“There was a void in the previous law that left our population level out with regard to DA duties, and we wanted that taken care of so we would know what to expect of a DA in work performance,” Kirby explained.
Wehrmeister resisted the new law, going so far as to ask the Nevada Attorney General’s Office earlier this year to provide an opinion about whether the county DA position was part-time or full-time.
“Several of our county commissioners had the feeling that their previous district attorneys, not me, going back three or four in a row, I guess, didn’t spend too much time in the county and didn’t spend too much time doing what the commissioners thought they should be doing.
“Nancy Boland, who’s the chairman of the commission, decided to get a BDR bill draft request in the last legislature to try to amend the laws governing district attorneys, and she did get some small minor amendments, but nothing that I thought were significant. But she kept pursuing it and we had a discussion late last year about how much time the DA should be in the office and so forth and so on, and we had a difference of opinion over the interpretation of the law,” Wehrmeister explained.
The AG’s office returned a lengthy opinion on May 25 that sided with Boland and commissioners. Wehrmeister said he was surprised by the breadth of the opinion, and agreed with most of it.
“I had no serious disagreements with any of it. Though perhaps the AG was — the problem has always been in Esmeralda County that historically, going back 100 years, the district attorney has never been looked upon as a full-time position. And that’s reflected both in the fact that the Nevada legislature allows the district attorney of Esmeralda County to have a private practice of law, which is the only county in the state that can do that.
“So historically, DAs of Esmeralda County have always had private practices on the side. And as a result of having a private practice, of course, they have to pursue that practice, which means they can’t sit in their office five days a week, eight hours a day. That’s an obvious truth,” Wehrmeister said. “Unfortunately, the thing I disagreed with the AG report on is it seemed to take the position that, ‘yeah, okay, you can have a private practice but do it on the weekends,’ which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it, so I didn’t really agree with that.”
Asked what kind of private practice he had on the side, the former DA said it only consisted of a few cases. He disputed allegations he was infrequently in Goldfield.
“I had plenty of time to spend in Goldfield, the county seat, which I have done for the last year and a half. I have never missed a county commissioner meeting, I’ve never missed a court date; I’ve done everything you could basically think of. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done over the past year and a half.
“I don’t know if anybody else is,” he said.
As for the prosecutorial blunders alleged by Arabia and others, the former DA says there have been a few cases that didn’t pass muster.
“We had a few cases, of course, that weren’t bound over and the reasons the justice of the peace gave for not binding them over we felt were legitimate and some we felt were not legitimate,” he explained.
Still, Wehrmeister said that compared to his predecessors, he was a stern law enforcer.
“In fact, interestingly enough, my first day in office, Jan. 3, 2011, there were four, active open criminal cases. One year later, there were 67 open and active criminal cases. Now that’s a tremendous increase in the number of prosecutions in one year,” he said. “I would put it down to the fact that previous district attorneys didn’t prosecute people. They just didn’t do it. I don’t know how true it is, but if you ask people around the Goldfield Courthouse area, you will find that frequently prior DAs were gone for months at a time, not even appear. I decided that that was not right and that there should be some active prosecutions. We have a lot of criminal activity in Esmeralda County, stemming from Highway 95 and I was going to do what any responsible elected official would do, which is to prosecute people we felt we had enough evidence to file charges against.”
Ultimately, Wehrmeister, who turns 69 this month, says family considerations forced his hand.
“Basically, I just decided along with my family that it was time to hang it up. I just want to spend more time with the family. So, this seemed like the right time to do it,” he said.