Questions linger as Sandoval prepares to leave job

One of the first questions U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval is going to have to answer when he sheds his judicial robes next week: Why give up what many consider a plum and prestigious lifetime appointment?

He's expected to deny reports that he was bored by the job.

He's not expected to say he couldn't live on the $174,000 salary, since the governor's job carries a salary of $141,000 and if he wins, he'll be taking a pay cut.

Friends say that after being in the legislative branch of government as an assemblyman, the executive branch as a Gaming Commissioner and the judicial branch as a federal judge, Sandoval is drawn toward being the boss, the CEO, the guy who calls the shots on public policy — the governor.

But after chatting with insiders at the federal courthouse, it's real clear that there's a big difference between the pace and the work in Reno and Las Vegas. Reno is slower paced without as many high-profile, complex cases like the ones in Las Vegas.

G-Sting. Hell's Angels. Doctor/lawyer conspiracy. Any of those ring a bell?

The last time I wrote about a Sandoval case was 2006. It was front page news in Reno when he ruled that a ninth grader should be allowed to recite a poem that contained the words "hell" and "damn" because of the school's ban on profanity.

The 14-year-old boy sued when his charter school said he wouldn't be able to recite "The More Loving One" by W.H. Auden at a state poetry contest.

Sandoval ruled the boy had First Amendment rights and the charter school's ban on profanity couldn't be used to stop him from reciting a poem. (The boy came in second in the contest.)

But while the work may be a little less exciting in Reno, there's a lifestyle in Washoe County that more than one Southern Nevada judge finds appealing. It's not just the natural beauty and the less debilitating weather, but there's a warmth and friendliness in the smaller community. Washoe County's population is 410,000, Clark County's is 1.86 million.

U.S. District Judge Clive Jones asked to move from Las Vegas to Reno to take over Sandoval's position for that very reason.

Las Vegas has gotten too big for Jones, who grew up here as a kid when the town had about 30,000 people. "My wife and I were born in Las Vegas and love Las Vegas as our home, but our children are out and we're empty nesters," he said. They lived in Reno before, when his first judgeship in bankruptcy court was located there early on, and loved the town and the pace. "This is just a later part of life decision," he said.

But for him, the pace won't decrease immediately.

"I'm going to keep two intact chambers and two intact caseloads for the six to nine months it takes to get a new judge," Jones said. "If I have heavily stacked trials, other judges will take those trials."

So far, there's no indication he's planning on dumping the high-profile conspiracy and fraud trial of Dr. Mark Kabins, currently set for Nov. 3 — in Las Vegas, of course.