Judges and judicial candidates must be careful with whom they associate. The judiciary is supposed to be beyond reproach. A single sketchy relationship can impugn the integrity of the bench.
Yet sitting judges and candidates for various courts still line up to gain the favor of Veterans in Politics International, a decidedly local organization barely connected to veterans and severely lacking in legitimacy. As with other candidates for office, judges covet the endorsement of an outfit that appears to represent the political consensus of the valley’s growing veteran community. It doesn’t.
In reality, Veterans in Politics carries out its endorsement process primarily to attract donor support and boost the ego of its president, Steve Sanson.
More than three dozen judges and judicial candidates are scheduled to participate in this weekend’s Veterans in Politics endorsement interviews at Rhythm Kitchen on South Decatur Boulevard. More judges and candidates will be interviewed the weekend of March 1-2. Family Court Judge Mathew Harter won’t be one of them.
Harter had been scheduled by Veterans in Politics to interview on March 1, but his interview was moved to Sunday, March 2. Harter asked if he could keep his Saturday slot. In an email exchange with Sanson that Harter shared with me, Harter wrote, “I try my very best to limit my politics/work on Sundays (faith, family, work—in that order). I do have Sunday church obligations, but your group’s consideration is important.”
Sanson responded twice. Part of the first response: “I understand your faith believe me, but let me just say this I have served this country in combat and on operations every secrete [sic] holiday you can think of.”
In the second response: “We went onto your website and you have several photos participating in the Chines [sic] New Year on SUNDAY February 9, 2014 campaign for your reelection you and your family wearing your campaign shirts and passing out political signage to further your reelection … Your statement has forced us to do an inquiry into your activities. If you don’t want to attend our endorsement interviews; please don’t use religion as an excuse.”
Harter wrote: “For the record, as you can read again in my email that you quoted, I said “I TRY.” I never insinuated that I have not done campaign stuff on Sundays in the past nor that I would not do it in the future. It is an unavoidable part of the job, but I TRY to limit it if possible. … It is truly remiss that my simple inquiry to keep the original time has prompted an investigation into my activities.”
Sanson: “I guess the Chines (sic) are more important than the men and women that gave you the right for democracy.”
I wonder: Does Veterans in Politics pre-screen judges and candidates who have the endorsement of the Asian Chamber of Commerce? Will Sanson personally question District Judge Jerry Tao, who was scheduled to interview this Saturday, about his heritage (Tao was born in Taiwan) to verify that he values democracy? And what other activities by judges and judicial candidates might prompt Veterans in Politics to investigate their activities?
I reached Sanson on Friday to ask. He said “everything” a candidate does is subject to his own investigation. And he said Harter’s decision to share their email exchange with me represented “childish behavior” and “insecurity on the bench.” Apparently, Harter is so insecure that he doesn’t mind losing the endorsement of Veterans in Politics.
“I have no problem with Asians at all,” Sanson added.
Sanson also has no problem accepting the support of people who embarrass the bench. As I wrote in September, Veterans in Politics hosted a meet-and-greet with valley judges that was sponsored by Nevada Judicial Watch, an anonymous Facebook page and Twitter account that purported to be a group of lawyers and judges who served as courtroom watchdogs.
That wasn’t the case. Nevada Judicial Watch was the creation of Lisa Willardson, the former prosecutor who was fired for having a romantic relationship with Family Court Judge Steven Jones while appearing before him in court. That relationship led to a three-month unpaid suspension for Jones, who was already serving a paid suspension because he was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with a $3 million investment fraud scheme. (Willardson died late last year in what the coroner determined to be an accidental drug overdose.)
After I unraveled Willardson’s role in Nevada Judicial Watch — which she tipped by relentlessly defending Jones despite his unethical judgment and criminal case — I asked Sanson about the sponsorship. Who was behind Nevada Judicial Watch?
“I wish I could tell you, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” he said. (A news release promoting this weekend’s endorsement interviews said “Veterans In Politics take [sic] pride in transparency.” Ha!)
I asked him if Lisa Willardson and Steven Jones were running the group. After a long pause, Sanson said, “You’re killing me, Glenn Cook!”
The sponsorship was substantial enough to nearly buy Willardson a spot on the Veterans in Politics panel that’s interviewing judges and judicial candidates and helps decide endorsements. Sanson’s confirmation of Willardson’s potential role in his endorsement process was a classic:
“How the (expletive) did you know that?” he said. “That was a conversation I had just with her! Are you bugging my phone?”
Southern Nevada’s judges and judicial candidates should ask themselves whether they want the endorsement of a hack outfit that would partner with Jones and Willardson and all but accuse a sitting judge of being a communist.
Stadium and arena plans
The Review-Journal’s monthly Hashtags &Headlines policy luncheon series picks up Monday with a discussion about the hottest infrastructure issue in the Las Vegas Valley: the arena and stadium projects proposed for the Strip, downtown, UNLV and Summerlin.
I’ll moderate the conversation between Don Snyder, UNLV’s acting president and chairman of the campus stadium authority board; MGM Resorts International executive Rick Arpin, who is working on his company’s Strip arena project and is also a member of the UNLV stadium authority board; analyst Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis; and Port Telles, development director for The Cordish Companies, which has proposed a downtown arena in partnership with the city of Las Vegas.
The luncheon will be held at Texas Station’s Houston Ballroom from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets cost $40 each and can be purchased online at www.reviewjournal.com/hashtagsandheadlines. Tickets can be purchased at the door Monday. Hope to see you there.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.