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Mar. 10, 2010

Two Dems file for DA


Brian Kunzi

Nicholas Anthony Del Vecchio


The heightened interest in the Nye County district attorney's race this year has resulted in a rarity in local politics: a contested Democratic primary.

Brian Kunzi, a senior deputy attorney general who directs the insurance fraud and worker's compensation fraud units, has competition from Las Vegas resident Nicholas Anthony Del Vecchio, a former Clark County family court judge removed by the Commission on Judicial Discipline in 2008.

Del Vecchio was removed from office after he admitted to having sex in hotels with a female staff member during working hours and made sexually suggestive remarks to another. He was also charged with inappropriate remarks to a Hispanic bailiff and a black employee.

The order, issued Nov. 6, 2008, said, "Judge Del Vecchio's pervasive and unhealthy fixation on sex and sexual innuendo in the workplace is both evident and objectionable. His repeated behavior was so boorish and crude as to be unimaginable in any employment setting, much less a court of law."

Del Vecchio had been a family court judge from 2000 to 2008. Only two other judges from southern Nevada have been removed by the commission since 1987.

When asked about it during an interview, Del Vecchio referred to current Nye County District Attorney Bob Beckett's two car wrecks on June 15, 2008, after which Beckett was arrested for drunk driving but pleaded guilty in Barstow, Calif., to misdemeanor reckless driving. He was placed on three years' probation and ordered to pay a $1,700 fine.

"The current DA was popped for two DUIs, so I guess it's up to the voting public to decide which one of the wrongdoings I guess is more severe, number one. Number two, I will say I admit what I did, I apologize for what I did, and I attended and completed counseling. This is America the land of second chances," Del Vecchio said.

"I knew it was going to come up. It's just one of those things and there's no way around it," he said. "You could certainly question my sanity, stepping back into the public light again."

State law doesn't require a district attorney to be a resident of the county. Del Vecchio stressed his experience: 12 years as a private attorney and eight years as a judge. Del Vecchio said in 2002, as a rookie judge, he placed fourth in the Las Vegas Review-Journal's "Judging the Judges" poll, in which attorneys critique the judges.

"In 2004 when I was re-elected, I had the lowest appeal rate in the 8th Judicial District Court," Del Vecchio said.

He said the Nye County district attorney's office needs to be run more efficiently, as evidenced by his seeing Beckett and a few deputy district attorneys all in Judge Robert Lane's courtroom on what seemed like a simple arraignment.

Del Vecchio said the fact a current and former deputy district attorney have filed against Beckett is an indication the office is in turmoil. Beckett's traffic incident was more serious because public property was destroyed, he said.

Del Vecchio said he worked for former Nye County District Attorney Phil Dunleavy in 1989, who was replaced by Art Wehrmeister, who had a Friday night preparation session for cases.

"As the district attorney I will take an active role in litigating because I have a strong litigation background. It's going to be more than, 'Oh, gee, I will just cherry-pick the case that will get me all over the newspapers,'" Del Vecchio said.

"I have over 20 years of direct courtroom experience as a lawyer, as a prosecutor or as a judge. Voters in Nye County are going to be hard put to find a candidate with more of a well-rounded, holistic approach to everything," he said.

Kunzi ran unsuccessfully against Beckett during Beckett's last contested race in 2002, losing by 5,950 votes to 4,224, a margin of 54.5 percent to 38.l7 percent.

Kunzi chose not to run again in 2006, but now, he said, "Things have gotten so chaotic in the DA's office that I really feel some significant changes ought to be made."

"The current culture needs to be changed. Misuse of county vehicles and absence from the office demonstrate an attitude of entitlement," Kunzi said in a prepared press release.

"What's disturbing to me is really the story that he's perpetrating, trying to pass this off as some type of diabetic condition is wrong," Kunzi said. Beckett couldn't have a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 after drinking only one beer even with his diabetic condition, he said.

Kunzi said he was a children's advocate for the state attorney general's office and authored the statewide Amber Alert system. He has been a Pahrump resident since 1998 and served on a few Nye County School District committees.

Kunzi received his law degree from the University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law and has been a prosecutor for over 15 years of his 26-year legal career. He got his start in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps and was at one time Mineral County's district attorney.

Kunzi said criminal cases need to be filed more promptly. He cited the FLOCK case as an example, which took two years to go to trial. Kunzi said the district attorney needs to set priorities to move cases along.

"In the 11 years I've lived in the valley, I've constantly heard about the friction between the sheriff's office and the DA's office," Kunzi said. "You sit down with the sheriff's office and let them know what you need to prosecute the case, and you try to work out those issues, and if there's no dialogue, you're never going to work out these problems."

Legal opinions shouldn't take a year either, Kunzi said. He cited the report on the status of Beatty's incorporation as one example.

Kunzi said he'd also like to see a more organized community service program as an alternative to incarceration in low-level criminal cases.

Kunzi made the news last month after the dismissal of the arson and insurance fraud charges against Roy and Oleysa Shawgo of Pahrump. Kunzi said the materials he received from the district attorney's office didn't reveal there was also an investigation by an insurance investigator, who put the origin of the fire in a completely different location than the state fire marshal had.

"I'm certainly in the courtroom almost every day with my current position, so I'm not afraid, and I supervise as many people as Bob does. I run two units both in Reno and Las Vegas," Kunzi said.

He added, "It doesn't matter if the DA is in the courtroom or not in the courtroom, but you've got to be in the office. There won't be an attorney in the office who puts in more hours than I do."

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