The District Judge Elizabeth Halverson saga is starting to creep beyond the borders of Nevada and into the California news media, while locally the docudrama is the first thing many of us read each day. When they make a TV special of it, I'd like to suggest a name: Power and Paranoia.
Halverson spent nine years as a fairly lowly law clerk. (I always assumed the 425-pound woman, according to her driver's license, stayed as long as she could for the county's health insurance coverage.) After she was fired, she ran for one judgeship, lost, but in 2006 won on her second try.
Before long, stories started coming out of the Regional Justice Center about her contemptuous behavior toward her staff, particularly her bailiff, Johnny Jordan. Halverson, who had never had real power, was relishing it, throwing a pencil on the floor and ordering him to pick it up. Jordan was ordered to give her foot rubs and back massages. He has since filed a complaint against his former boss alleging discrimination based on sex and race. He is black and says she treated him like a "house boy."
Her court clerk, Katherine Streuber, said the judge's behavior was "vile, angry, degrading to anyone within her path." Streuber also objected to being called "the evil one" and "the anti-Christ" by the judge. (We in the news business hear that every other day, but courthouse employees are unaccustomed.)
Court officials realized they were going to be slapped with multiple lawsuits alleging hostile work environment if no action was taken. Three judges were asked to help Halverson, Family Court Judge Art Ritchie and District Judges Stewart Bell and Sally Loehrer.
A memo details an April 6 meeting between Halverson and the three judges:
• She's told it's inappropriate to have staff rub her feet or her back. Her answer: She'd told the bailiff to stop that, that he'd become too familiar with her.
• She's told she should not require staff to show up at 6:45 a.m. to wait for her arrival at 8 or 8:30 a.m. Her answer: She'd told the bailiff not to come early, but he wouldn't listen.
• She's told she should not have staff make her lunch. Answer: The bailiff wants to make her lunch.
• She's told there are 20-25 orders missing. Answer: She's shocked.
• She's told it's unethical to make statements showing bias against attorneys, particularly those who didn't give to her campaign. Answer: Yes, she said it, but since nobody gave her money for her campaign, she's not discriminating against anyone.
• She's told the demeaning way she talks to her husband, Ed, referring to him as a "bitch" (and worse), is offensive to staff. Answer: She doesn't know why that would upset the staff, but the solution is to have him not come to her chambers.
• Told she should treat people with dignity and respect, Halverson said she didn't know specifically what she was doing wrong.
After she answered every allegation made against her, Judge Bell told her, "If you can't see it, you can't fix it. Get some psychological help."
On April 12, the three judges tried to meet with Halverson again at 4:30 p.m. She was in a civil nonjury trial. The three judges waited until 6 p.m. before leaving. Later, the judges said they confirmed her trial was over, but she waited in the courtroom until she confirmed they had departed. The judges said Halverson will "falsely" claim she was in trial. Essentially, the judges called her a liar.
Buoyed by power, convinced everyone is against her, Elizabeth Halverson, 49, has achieved what seems to be her heart's desire: She is the center of attention. She's page one news, and she leads the nightly television news.
The voters now know Elizabeth Halverson, but she has 18 months left on the bench before they can vote her out of office. That's too long a wait. The Judicial Discipline Commission, which has the power to remove her from office, cannot confirm if a complaint has been filed. However, I'm told investigators are now working a complaint against her.
Meanwhile, everyone who voted for her can enjoy the circus under the big tent we call the Regional Justice Center.
Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.