Judiciary

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A Las Vegas judge is facing an ethics complaint stemming from her own personal investigation of a hip-hop clothing store where her daughter worked and a double murder that she thought involved her daughter’s acquaintance.

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline filed the Aug. 31 complaint against Melanie Andress-Tobiasson, a Las Vegas justice of the peace, report the Las Vegas Review-Journal, KTNV and 8 News Now.

The complaint alleges that Andress-Tobiasson presided in cases involving people connected to her investigation. Among the alleged ethics violations are that Andress-Tobiasson abused the prestige of her office, permitted family interests to influence her judgment, and participated in conduct that appeared to undermine her independence and impartiality.

Andress-Tobiasson told 8 News Now that her actions were intended to save her teenage daughter from sex trafficking that she thought was happening at the clothing store. Andress-Tobiasson thought the store was actually a club where girls would sometimes dance on stripper poles, so she began to investigate, according to the ethics charges.

Andress-Tobiasson told 8 News Now in 2018 that she spent hours staking out the store.

“I would go, I would watch, I would get license plate numbers, I would get makes and models of cars, I would follow people, I would get information about where they would go, where they lived,” Andress-Tobiasson told the broadcast station. “I never used inappropriate means to get information. I did it all myself.”

Andress-Tobiasson came to the conclusion that an acquaintance of her daughter was a pimp running an underage prostitution ring at the club. Beginning in July 2015, the judge asked several vice officers to investigate the store; those same officers sometimes sought search warrants from Andress-Tobiasson unrelated to the store, the ethics complaint says.

When the alleged pimp was charged with domestic battery in September 2015, Andress-Tobiasson presided at the arraignment and issued a bench warrant for his arrest when he failed to appear, the ethics complaint says.

In December 2015, Andress-Tobiasson’s daughter told her that the alleged pimp tried to persuade her to become a prostitute. At that time, Andress-Tobiasson told police that they also had to investigate the man.

The alleged pimp was arraigned on a domestic battery charge before Andress-Tobiasson in June 2016. Andress-Tobiasson accepted his guilty plea and sentenced him in accord with a plea agreement. Andress-Tobiasson told the judicial discipline commission that she didn’t want to disqualify herself because she didn’t want the alleged pimp to know that she was the mother of a teen girl who frequented the clothing store.

In September 2016, Andress-Tobiasson granted a request for a search warrant at the clothing store after a fatal shooting happened outside the establishment, the ethics complaint says.

Andress-Tobiasson later thought the pimp was involved in an October 2016 double murder, so she also began to investigate that, as well, the ethics complaint says. She persuaded the mother of one murder victim to send her texts with the victim before her death, as well as the mother’s texts with police officers investigating the murder. Andress-Tobiasson allegedly used burner phones to communicate secretly with the woman.

Andress-Tobiasson was also accused of creating a false telephone account to send inappropriate text messages to a woman she also thought was involved in the murder.

Police began to investigate whether Andress-Tobiasson’s involvement in the murder investigation violated any laws and obtained judicial authorization to place a pen register on her phones to track dialing information. Police learned that Andress-Tobiasson was communicating with an organized crime figure, the ethics complaint says.

Andress-Tobiasson presided over a July 2017 hearing involving the organized crime figure, where she dismissed domestic violence charges against him, the ethics complaint says. Online records, however, indicate that prosecutors dropped the charges, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In a media interview, Andress-Tobiasson said vice detectives were protecting pimps in exchange for bribes and sex with prostitutes, and that she was threatened with criminal charges to prevent her from exposing police corruption, according to the ethics complaint.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal indicates that the interview was with the online publication thee Baltimore Post-Examiner.

In the Baltimore Post-Examiner interview, Andress-Tobiasson said her police officer husband had not helped her.

“I was the one who went to [the pimp’s] house, kicked in the door,” she said. “I was the one who went to the cops. I was the one who followed my daughter. I was the one who made sure she was safe.”

Andress-Tobiasson also spoke about corruption in the 2018 interview with 8 News Now.

“The problem is I don’t think we’re in danger from the pimps anymore,” she said. “I’m more afraid of the vice detectives and those who are trying to cover this up. That’s what I’m afraid of now.”

A lawyer for the judge, Marc Cook, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that there were “a multitude of inaccuracies” in the ethics complaint.

“I hope nobody’s judging this judge, this mother, before we get all the facts,” he said.