Judge faces misconduct charges

CARSON CITY -- Formal charges of judicial misconduct were filed Monday against suspended District Judge Elizabeth Halverson, just days after her attorneys argued her suspension should be lifted because proceedings were moving too slowly.

The Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission filed a 14-count complaint against the judge alleging she fell asleep on the bench, had improper contact with jurors and engaged in sexual and religious harassment against employees, among numerous other violations of the judicial canons.

The complaint, filed by Dorothy Nash Holmes, special prosecutor for the Judicial Discipline Commission, also alleges Halverson created a hostile work environment for court employees and interfered in the administration of Clark County District Court by Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle.

Halverson could not be reached Monday for comment. The judge's husband, Edward Halverson, said his wife was unavailable when he was approached outside the couple's home near Tropicana Avenue and U.S. Highway 95.

She and her attorneys will have about 20 days to respond to the complaint.

A public hearing to consider the merit of the charges will be conducted by the commission, but a date has not been scheduled.

The formal statement of charges follows a July 25 decision by the Judicial Discipline Commission to temporarily ban Halverson from the bench for unprofessional behavior. The commission found that Halverson posed a substantial threat both of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice.

That order of interim suspension was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court on Nov. 1.

The court said in its opinion that "the cumulative effect of Judge Halverson's conduct was to seriously impair the functioning of the Eighth Judicial District Court."

But in the opinion, the Supreme Court also warned the commission to move forward with a formal case against the judge in an expeditious fashion, lest the interim suspension inappropriately take on a more permanent form of discipline.

Just last week lawyers for Halverson raised that very issue, filing a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to revoke her temporary suspension because the Judicial Discipline Commission had not yet filed formal charges.

Her attorney, Bill Gamage of Las Vegas, said Monday he would like to see the Supreme Court provide some relief to Halverson through the petition raising her due process complaint.

"We believe this has taken too long," he said.

Gamage said it shouldn't take much time to prepare a statement of charges, and questioned the timing of the latest action, given the effort begun last week to challenge the interim suspension in the Supreme Court.

In the petition, Halverson asks for all commission proceedings against her to be dismissed "due to its inexcusable dilatory actions" in her case.

Gamage said the matter in front of the Supreme Court will proceed regardless of what action the Judicial Discipline Commission takes.

John Arrascada, a Reno attorney also representing Halverson, called the timing of the charges "very curious," giving the two week filing period for judges that started Monday.

Arrascada said it is his understanding that Halverson will run for re-election.

"Her desire is to be a judge and serve the electorate that placed her on the bench," he said. "But the timing of this places her in a position with the electorate that not many people running for public office want to be in."

Halverson had indicated in September she would run for re-election despite her troubles. The filing period for judicial candidates started Monday and lasts through Jan. 18.

If she does run she already has an opponent. Las Vegas Family Court Judge Stefany Miley has announced she is running for the seat.

The formal statement of charges is similar to the allegations considered by the commission when it decided to temporarily suspend Halverson from the bench nearly six months ago.

Halverson, who continues to collect her $130,000-a-year salary while on suspension, was elected to Department 23 in 2006. Four months after taking the bench in January 2007, commission staff received documentation of concerns about her judicial performance and treatment of staff.

The complaint identifies three occasions when Halverson slept on the bench, during the judge's first civil trial in January 2007 and during criminal trials in February and March 2007.

In addition to having improper conversations with jurors in a child molestation case, the complaint alleges that Halverson made public comments to the media that could have affected the outcome of the case.

The sexual harassment claims arise from Halverson's alleged treatment of her former bailiff, Johnnie Jordan. In addition to touching Jordan, Halverson required him to heat and serve her meals, to spy on other court employees and to assist in putting on and taking off her shoes. She also yelled at him and called him names, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges religious harassment by Halverson in referring to her then-law clerk as a "faux Jew" in the presence of another member of her court staff. She made the same comment about an attorney, according to the complaint.

She is also accused of yelling at and using foul language aimed at court staff, and for hiring personal security without informing the chief judge.

Hardcastle in May barred Halverson from the Regional Justice Center, claiming she put courthouse security at risk when she brought her two personal bodyguards into secured areas of the courthouse.

That move prompted Halverson to seek intervention from the Nevada Supreme Court, which allowed Halverson to return to work where she continued to hear civil cases until her interim suspension was announced in July.

The Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission was created in 1976 to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct or disability. The judicial commission can impose various forms of punishment, ranging from a reprimand to removal from office.

It is composed of seven members: two judges appointed by the Nevada Supreme Court, two attorneys appointed by the State Bar of Nevada's Board of Governors, and three lay people appointed by the governor.

Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau writer Sean Whaley at (775) 687-3900 or swhaley@reviewjournal.com.Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report.