Staff: Judge slept on job


District Judge Elizabeth Halverson's former bailiff testified that she fell asleep daily in court and frequently told him to shoot her husband, according to transcripts of a closed-door hearing that were made public Wednesday.

Johnnie Jordan, who began working as Halverson's bailiff when she took office in January, told the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission at a July 16 hearing that his boss told him "plenty of times" that she wanted him to shoot her husband, a convicted felon whom she called "Evil Ed" and other derogatory names.

"Did you take this as a joke what she was telling you, just shoot him?" special counsel Dorothy Nash-Holmes asked.

"No, I didn't," Jordan replied. "I didn't know how to take it."

Although Halverson made the comments in front of her husband, he was not present on one occasion when the judge told Jordan she would dispose of the body herself, the former bailiff testified.

Halverson attorney John Arrascada of Reno declined to comment on the content of the transcripts, which were posted on the Nevada Supreme Court's Web site.

"I have an obligation of confidentiality under the rules of the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline," he said.

Testimony at the hearing led the commission to suspend Halverson while it investigates allegations of wrongdoing. The suspension took effect July 25. It does not stop Halverson from collecting her annual salary of $130,000.

The commission gave two reasons for suspending the 49-year-old judge.

"First, she poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public," according to the order. "Second, she poses a substantial threat to the administration of justice."

The commission cited Halverson's inexperience with criminal law, her inexperience as a judge and her overall poor judgment as grounds for temporarily removing her from the bench. The panel has the power to remove judges from office.

Witnesses at the Judicial Discipline Commission hearing testified that Halverson created a hostile work environment for her staff and that she initiated improper contact with jurors in at least two criminal trials. The order of suspension said that "there was more than adequate proof" that Halverson fell asleep at least once while presiding over a criminal trial.

Jordan, who never before had worked as a bailiff, testified that Halverson "fell asleep every day" in court. He said she once was in such a deep sleep that he failed to wake her by slamming a heavy courtroom door "two or three times."

When his efforts failed, Jordan testified, he sought help from Halverson's secretary, Ileen Spoor, who roused the judge.

"I went into the courtroom, thinking I might have to call 911, and I shook the judge until I woke her and asked her if she needed to take a break when I got her awake," Spoor testified.

She said Halverson, who is obese and has several health problems, told everyone in the courtroom that she had taken medication that disagreed with her "but that she was fine now and to carry on."

Spoor testified that Halverson privately told her that she had fallen asleep because Spoor "hadn't let her take a long enough nap prior to her taking the bench to continue the trial."

Halverson fired Spoor in May and accused her of using her position to fix traffic tickets. Spoor, now a roving judicial assistant, responded by filing a defamation lawsuit against Halverson.

Jordan, who testified that he has filed racial discrimination and sexual harassment complaints against Halverson, now works in Family Court but is no longer a bailiff.

In her closing argument to the commission, Nash-Holmes told the panel it should not be swayed by testimony from current members of Halverson's staff who said she has "been on good behavior."

"I think it's obvious that she's had the whole eyes of this state, and certainly this jurisdiction on her since this became a discipline matter," the special prosecutor said.

Nash-Holmes told commissioners they had heard "strong and overwhelming evidence" that Halverson abuses staff and her power.

"I think that what she did for the first few months of her tenure as a judge shows what she is like as a judge," the special prosecutor argued.

Nash-Holmes discussed Halverson's treatment of Jordan, who alleged the judge regularly required him to put on her shoes, prepare her lunch and clean her chambers. Jordan testified that Halverson once asked him to massage her neck.

"You saw how he testified," Nash-Holmes said. "This man did his best to hold his composure on there. He illustrated her voice and her attitude and stuff when he had to, but he tried to be deferential, and yet he broke down crying, to the point where he couldn't even talk about some of the things that happened to him."

During Jordan's cross-examination, Commissioner Richard Wagner, a Pershing County district judge, expressed concern that Halverson appeared to be trying to intimidate the witness. Wagner, who was presiding over the hearing, asked Arrascada to question the witness from a different location in the room.

"As this witness is testifying, it appears that in fact counsel is standing right behind Judge Halverson, and in doing so it appears to be a staring contest with Judge Halverson into the eyes of this witness, not blinking at any time, with some type of an expression on her face which appears to be intended to try to intimidate this witness," Wagner said.

Arrascada urged commissioners "to end these proceedings here and now."

"New judges make mistakes," the attorney argued. "Longtime judges make mistakes, if these were truly mistakes. But the remedies are, they go up -- and I know the court disagrees with me, but remedies of mistakes go up on appeal, and they're handled that way. If every judge suffered judicial discipline because they made a mistake of law or fact or made an error in their rulings, we wouldn't have a single judge here."

In an appeal of the suspension order, filed this week with the Supreme Court, Halverson's lawyers argued that the hearing "lacked due process and was fundamentally unfair."

According to the document, the commission gave "unfettered subpoena power" to the special prosecutor but "denied the issuance of almost all subpoenas requested by Judge Halverson."

 

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