Lawyers rate female jurists as less courteous than men


"Sugar and spice, and everything nice" may fit for a nursery rhyme, but, when it comes to District Court judges in Clark County, local attorneys don't think women on the bench are nearly as courteous as the men in black robes.

In the Review-Journal's Judging the Judges survey, the court's male judges as a group scored higher than female judges as a group when attorneys rated each judge as either "less than adequate," "adequate" or "more than adequate" on courtesy.

One probable factor is that two-thirds of the attorneys surveyed were men and, according to experts who study judges and the courts, attorneys and litigants favor a judge similar to them, whether in age, ethnic makeup or gender.

"Courteousness, or lack of courteousness, might show a partiality or favoritism, and that is a substantive concern for the attorneys," said Tuan Samahon, associate professor of law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Bill Dressel said, "If you are dismissive or abusive in your language, you are not providing justice."

Dressel is a former judge and president of the National Judicial College, which holds classes in Reno for judges from across the country.

The courteousness of all but two of the 13 male District Court judges was rated more than adequate by between 66 percent and 76 percent of the attorneys who responded.

Meanwhile, the courteousness of nine of the 10 female District Court judges was rated more than adequate between a low of 22 percent, for Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle, and a high of 63 percent for Civil Court Chief Judge Elizabeth Gonzales. That means the highest-scoring female judge scored lower than all but two of the male judges.

The two lowest-scoring male judges, outgoing Judge Lee Gates and Judge Donald Mosley, who plans to seek re-election this year, bring the males' average down to 64 percent "more than adequate" on the question of courteousness. With them out of the equation, the average for male judges jumps to 71 percent "more than adequate."

If Hardcastle's low score, and the abysmal grade of ousted Judge Elizabeth Halverson, are not included, the average for the female District Court judges is 47 percent "more than adequate." With Halverson's and Hardcastle's ratings included, the average for female judges drops to 41 percent.

Aside from Gonzales' top score among female judges, the other female District Court judges who received the highest "more than adequate" marks for courteousness include Susan Johnson, Jennifer Togliatti and Valerie Adair.

With regard to Johnson, one attorney wrote anonymously, "Always courteous and organized. Shows up on time. Does not waste attorneys' time."

On Togliatti, one wrote: "Very professional and courteous, however, she has a problem making up her mind."

And, on Adair, attorneys wrote, "Wonderful. She runs a great courtroom, does not waste time and dispenses economic and fair justice."

In addition to Hardcastle, who didn't return calls seeking comment, the lowest scoring female District Court judges include Sally Loehrer, Jackie Glass and Michelle Leavitt. Approximately 30 percent of attorneys ranked them "less than adequate" on the question of courtesy.

Of Loehrer, who did not seek re-election, an attorney wrote, "Who will she be rude to when she retires?"

On Glass, one wrote, "Treats experienced attorneys like 5th graders."

Few attorneys had nice things to say about Mosley. An example: "Could give Vincent Price a run for his money. Very scary." According to his assistant, Mosley, who this year has drawn opponents for his position, had "no comment" on the survey results.

Gates, the husband of former Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates, drew similar comments. One was, "I have practiced law for 38 years in three different states and Judge Lee A. Gates is the rudest, crudest judge I have ever been before."

The highest-scoring male judges on the courtesy question were Doug Herndon, Allen Earl, Mark Denton and James Bixler.

Although some said Herndon is arrogant and sides too often with prosecutors in criminal cases, other attorneys wrote things like "intelligent, thoughtful, informed and fair."

Some thought Earl, a former plaintiffs' attorney, favors plaintiffs, but others called him "an absolute gentleman. Makes me proud to be a lawyer."

Of Denton, one wrote, "Great judicial demeanor and concern for reaching the appropriate result."

One attorney articulated a widespread opinion of Bixler: "Most friendly and endearing judge on the bench."

Attorneys were supposed to rate only those judges with whom they had personal experience, and the number who rated them on courtesy ranged from 144 for Elissa Cadish, relatively new to the bench, up to 378 for veteran judge Glass.

Samahon and Dressel said courtesy is important to overall courtroom decorum, and Samahon said "judicial temperament" can be a factor that helps or hurts a judge seeking appointment to higher office.

Attorneys dominate on judicial-selection committees, and, whether good or bad, they may consider a judge's courteousness when considering an appointment to a federal judgeship or to the state Supreme Court, Samahon said.

"You are showing that you are impartial," Dressel said of courteous judges, "that you are listening to everyone and that you will base your rulings in a case on the evidence."

Contact reporter Frank Geary at fgeary@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277.