A longtime Goodsprings judge has been suspended for a year without pay following a series of ethics charges, according to a ruling made this week by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline.
The punishment is based on Justice of the Peace Dawn Haviland’s “repeated failure over several years to follow the law, her proclivity towards following her own moral compass in administering her version of justice irrespective of the law, and her lack of remorse and admission of wrongdoing for the same,” the ruling states.
According to a host of allegations made public earlier this year, Haviland sealed her then-son-in-law’s criminal records, ordered staff to run background checks on her friend’s boyfriend, and bullied employees.
Haviland has served as the small town’s sole justice of the peace since 1999. She was suspended with pay in December.
In her absence, three temporary justices of the peace will rotate to cover her calendars, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said. The arrangement has been in place since her initial suspension.
“We’re going to honor the decision, and we will continue to operate as we have these past seven months,” Pappa said.
Haviland is expected to return to the bench next year.
As justice of the peace, Haviland receives a taxpayer-funded salary of more than $70,000 a year. She does not have a law degree, which is not a requirement for justices of the peace in rural communities. Goodsprings is about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas.
Though Haviland could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, the judge responded to her charges in March in the form of a 14-page formal statement. She contended that all claims made against her were fabricated by resentful employees.
“I do not believe that I have committed any ethical violations,” she wrote at the time. “I have at all times during my 20-year career attempted to administer justice fairly and within the confines of the law.”
She also addressed specific allegations:
— In response to an accusation that she sealed her former son-in-law’s criminal records, Haviland said an employee handed her a stack of orders to be signed. “I do not recall specifically signing this order.” The records were in a domestic case involving Haviland’s daughter, and both parties agreed to the seal, said Haviland, who recused herself from the case.
— In response to an allegation that Haviland instructed her staff to conduct a criminal background investigation on her friend’s boyfriend, the judge said she simply ran a basic public records search on behalf of a woman who lost $65,000 in a previous relationship. “This was a small favor for me and my staff to do for this woman, and my advice may have saved her tens of thousands of dollars and considerable grief and heartache,” she said.
— In response to a charge about an improper sentence she later modified, Haviland said, “It is surprising to me that I am being charged with an ethics violation based on a simple mistake.”
Haviland’s lawyer, Al Marquis, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday that both he and his client were “very disappointed in the decision.”
“We really thought that we had clearly established that she had not violated the code of ethics,” he said Wednesday. “But when three employees decide to gang together to bring down their boss, it’s hard to fight that.”
The commission’s ruling instead commended the employees who came forward.
“If they had not done so, these disturbing matters would not have come to light and, quite probably, would have continued far into the future,” the ruling states.
Contact Rachel Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.
Other disciplinary actions
In addition to imposing a one-year suspension without pay, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline ordered Goodsprings Justice of the Peace Dawn Haviland to:
— Complete several classes on best judicial practices and attend at least one educational conference, all at her own expense.
— Be appointed a judicial mentor (who is licensed to practice law) upon her return to the bench. The mentor will remain appointed for one year, during which the mentor will complete quarterly reports on Haviland’s progress, or lack thereof.
Should she fail to complete the classes and mentoring requirements, Haviland will be permanently removed from the bench and forever barred from serving as a judge in the future, the ruling said.