Familiarity might not always breed contempt, but it most certainly can hurt the approval ratings of judges.
Nearly three-quarters of jurists who have been evaluated in the Review-Journal's two most recent judicial evaluation surveys saw a drop in their retention score from 2008 to 2010.
The retention score is the percentage of lawyers who said a particular judge should be retained versus the number who said that judge should not.
North Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Sean Hoeffgen, who is in his second six-year term, had the biggest decline, from 80 percent to 56 percent.
Only 16 of 60 judges evaluated in 2008 and 2010 had higher approval ratings in this year's evaluation.
The biggest bump up belonged to District Court Judge Abbi Silver, who was on the Las Vegas Justice Court bench two years ago. She scored 62 percent this year, up from 55 percent in 2008.
With Hoeffgen and others on the bench, it's a case of same judge, same courtroom, far different survey result.
"I think I've been the same guy since the last review," Hoeffgen said. "I really don't have an explanation for why this happened."
The retention score is not always relevant, because Nevada judges often run for re-election unopposed, and win automatically. But the attorneys' recommendation can be important in contested elections.
One judge whose score dropped dramatically between 2008 and 2010 is running in a contested race this year.
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo, whose retention rating dropped from 90 percent to 71 percent, was taken to task by attorneys who rated him down for his misdemeanor battery domestic violence conviction last year.
Abbatangelo, a justice of the peace since 1996, spent two days in jail and was ordered to do community service and attend domestic violence counseling stemming from an incident in which he was accused of assaulting his wife at the time.
"I don't believe a person who has been convicted of a crime while sitting as a judge should be allowed to continue serving as a judge," one attorney wrote in the comments section of the survey.
But other lawyers said Abbatangelo's conduct on the bench was what mattered most.
One said: "I know this judge had some personal issues ... but all my dealings with him as a judge have been more than professional and entirely appropriate for a member of the judiciary."
Abbatangelo, who has two challengers in his re-election bid, said, "The drop was not unexpected. It's unfortunate to me that a handful of attorneys are focusing on an isolated incident in my former marriage. Everybody involved is past it."
Tied with Abbatangelo for the second biggest drop in retention score was Henderson Municipal Court Judge Diana Hampton. In 2008, 57 percent of attorneys thought Hampton should be retained. This year, that number fell to 38 percent.
Hampton said she doesn't put much weight in the survey results.
"I'm proud to live in a city that has a low crime rate, and I consider myself part of the reason for that," she said. "If that means I'm doing my job, and I upset attorneys, then so be it."
Four of the 10 judges whose approval scores dropped the most sit on Municipal Court benches.
Several attorneys polled in the survey expressed the belief that those courts impose harsh sentences for minor infractions.
One attorney, writing about Hoeffgen, commented: "Jail should be reserved for the worst offenders, and the worst offenders are not misdemeanants."
Contact reporter Alan Maimon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0404.