Judging the Judges: Nevada Supreme Court Justices say they take criticism, comments to heart

CARSON CITY — In professional sports, any team that wins 70 percent or more of its games usually is a champion, or a close runner-up. Even teams successful about 55 percent of the time frequently gain a spot in the first round of playoffs.

If this guideline applies to the judiciary, Nevada Supreme Court justices — particularly Nancy Saitta, Michael Douglas and Michael Cherry, who are up for re-election this November — should be happy with results of the 2011 Judicial Performance Evaluation, a survey of Clark County lawyers by the Review-Journal.

A majority of the attorneys who rated the seven current justices said each should be retained by voters. The judges serve staggered six-year terms and take turns as chief justice.

Nearly 900 attorneys, or 19 percent of active, licensed lawyers in the Las Vegas area, voluntarily responded to the survey of all Southern Nevada and statewide judges. They were asked, however, to rate only those judges with whom they had sufficient and fairly recent experience. From 281 to 397 attorneys evaluated the justices individually. The lawyers again gave their top rating to Mark Gibbons, with 83 percent saying he should be returned to office. Three others were not far behind: Ron Parraguirre had 81 percent approval, while Douglas and Cherry both scored 79 percent.

James Hardesty also had strong favorable support at 71 percent.

Further behind were the two female justices. Kristina Pickering had 63 percent support, while current Chief Justice Saitta fared poorest at 56 percent.

If past examples are any indicator, the survey’s retention scores clearly are important to the justices.

Thomas Steffen and Charles Springer didn’t run for re-election when their retention scores in the 1990s dropped into the 30s.

And while Deborah Agosti cited health reasons when she chose not to run for re-election in 2004, her announcement came two weeks after her retention score had dropped to 44 percent.

That drop came in the wake of a public furor over the court allowing the Legislature to pass tax increases without the constitutionally required two-thirds majority.

All seven current justices agreed to comment about their survey evaluations.

NANCY SAITTA

Although her retention approval was the lowest of the seven sitting justices, Saitta’s score marked an improvement over surveys in 2008 (45 percent) and 2010 (50 percent).

“I think constructive criticism is helpful,” Saitta said. “All of us take what is said about us seriously. I am very happy I have improved.”

Even when she was a district judge, however, Saitta received relatively low retention scores in surveys and still won elections.

Saitta pulled the biggest upset in the 2006 state Supreme Court elections when she defeated incumbent Nancy Becker by almost 9 percentage points.

“I work hard and I am a committed justice,” said Saitta, who intends to file for re-election Tuesday . “I am grateful for the support I received, even though the number is less than I would like it to be.”

In general, lawyers made flattering comments about Saitta. One called her compassionate, another a good activist for children, and still another said she was the “soul of the court.”

But about a third of the rating lawyers called her less than adequate on three traits closely related to knowing the law and using it well — being prepared for specific cases, applying law and rules properly, and explaining decisions. Hers were the court’s worst scores on those qualities.

MIKE CHERRY

Cherry said he believes the survey bodes well for his re-election hopes.

“I am happy with the results,” he said, noting his retention score has increased each year. “I work hard. I try to be fair. I try to do my best for the voters of Nevada.”

He quipped that lawyers who offered negative comments about him “must be people I ruled against sometime.”

In anonymous comments about the justices, most lawyers surveyed called Cherry an excellent judge, a nice guy and even a “lovely person.”

But about 20 percent said he is insufficiently free of bias toward parties or attorneys. Written comments elaborated:

“Easily swayed by high powered attorneys and clients. Way too plaintiff-oriented,” one lawyer wrote.

Another charged Cherry had a “taxpayer funded gastric bypass operation to reduce his girth.”

Cherry said that he’s never had such surgery and starts each morning with exercise.

Cherry did not face opposition when he first ran for the state Supreme Court in 2006 and does not know if he will in his re-election bid next November.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

While Douglas would like to get a 100 percent retention score, he realizes his 79 percent is very respectable. He noted that it has improved during his years on the court.

The lawyers also give him good scores on specific judicial traits, especially courtesy and freedom from bias.

“I guess if you throw out 10 percent of the scores at the top and 10 percent at the bottom, you will find what people really think about you,” Douglas said.

Still, he said that the scores are more of a perception by lawyers on how justices are doing, because few lawyers actually appear in person before the court, yet 325 weighed in with opinions on him.

Douglas said he takes the criticism more to heart than the positive comments lawyers expressed in the survey: “You look at what they say and wonder, ‘How can I be better in what I am doing?’ ”

But most lawyers seem to consider Douglas a gentleman — polite, fair and balanced. One called him “the class of the court.”

He received a few negative comments, including one that Douglas “believes he is now above the human race.”

Douglas, the court’s first African-American justice, retained his seat in 2006 by a 12-point margin over Clark County Family Court Judge Dianne Steel. He said that he doesn’t know if he’ll have an opponent this year .

MARK GIBBONS

Gibbons has received the top retention score among justices in past surveys as well, and received high marks when he was a District Court judge, too.

“I thank the lawyers and the Review-Journal,” he said. “I try to work hard and be fair.”

Like other justices, Gibbons said he listens more to criticisms leveled by lawyers in the survey than to their compliments.

He is the only member of the court remaining from the 2003 panel that voted to suspend the state constitution and allow tax increases by a legislative majority vote of less than two-thirds.

Unlike Agosti and Becker, Gibbons was not hurt by his vote, and he won re-election in 2008 by more than a 2-to-1 margin over Frank Christensen.

Lawyers in the survey called Gibbons a solid judge, some even applying the adjectives of phenomenal or stellar. Only 4 percent said he lacks courtesy.

Few made negative comments, although one said Gibbons had to “suck up to the RJ” to win re-election after voting to suspend the two-thirds requirement.

KRISTINA PICKERING

Though pleased by positive survey comments, Pickering said that she’ll take the negative ones to heart and see if she can improve.

“All I can do is the best job I can,” said Pickering, the only justice without a background as a District Court judge. “I try to treat everyone with respect and base decisions on the legal issues as I see them.”

A longtime Clark County lawyer, Pickering was elected to the court in 2008 after a contested primary and a narrow 3 percentage point win over District Judge Deborah Schumacher of Washoe County.

While emphasizing she was “not making excuses,” Pickering said some lawyers who backed her opponent might not support her remaining on the court because of lingering resentments over that election.

But, she added, “I don’t think it is fair to expect people to give up loyalty until I earn their trust.”

Other critics, Pickering said, could be lawyers she sparred with as an attorney.

Several lawyers surveyed called her the best justice, and others remarked about her intelligence.

The primary criticism from a few lawyers was that Pickering takes pro-business positions. One lawyer called her a “corporate shill and a defense bar favorite,” and another said she favors corporations.

RON PARRAGUIRRE

Parraguirre was unopposed in his November 2010 election bid, and in an email response to a question about his scores, called the survey a “helpful evaluative tool for the public” in looking at judges.

He was pleased with his high scores and most of the comments made by lawyers.

“Certainly in our profession, we cannot nor should we expect to please everyone,” he wrote. “Fifty percent of those who appear before us are not success­ful in their litigation matters.”

Parraguirre said he and other justices should try to properly apply the law, listen carefully and clearly explain their rulings. Even if litigants are not successful, they should have a sense their case was “fairly considered and given the time and attention it deserved.”

Lawyers responding to the survey said Parraguirre was a fine man, a great judge, a true professional and extremely courteous.

Few offered any negatives. One called him a “lousy politician,” which might have been intended as a compliment, considering that judges are supposed to be apolitical on the bench.

A couple of lawyers said his decisions favor insurance companies, with one lawyer calling him a “foot soldier of the insurance defense industry.”

JAMES HARDESTY

Hardesty is the only justice from Reno, and was unopposed in 2010 for his second term.

He said he’d have liked a higher score than his 71 percent retention rating, which was slightly lower than the 2010 survey: “I learn a lot from the comments. Having an adequate score means a great deal for me.”

Perhaps more than any other judge, Hardesty is well-known for challenging arguments advanced by lawyers before the court.

He worked closely with legislators in 2009 to establish the Foreclosure Mediation Program, a step praised by some, but criticized by others as a violation of the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.

One surveyed lawyer praised Hardesty’s work in establishing the program, saying it has helped keep homeowners in their homes.

Other lawyers’ comments mostly praised him, especially for intellect and work ethic.

Because he is from Northern Nevada, Hardesty said many Clark County attorneys do not know him as well as they do the other justices. He plans to “reach out to them” and interact more with the Southern Nevada legal community.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at
evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

ad-high_impact_4
News
NSPCA Gets Kittens From LA
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Crime
3 Pahrump residents arrested on false imprisonment charges
James Thatcher, 28 of Pahrump, Chelsea Demille, 30 of Pahrump, and Sandra Wombles, 19 of Pahrump were all arrested after it was discovered that they were holding an adult female and male prisoners in their bedroom. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
2 kids struck by gunfire in North Las Vegas shooting
On Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, people opened fire into a residence in the 3600 block of Hamlin Place in North Las Vegas. Two kids were hit by gunfire and sent to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to North Las Vegas police. Anyone with information is asked to call the NLVPD at 702-633-9111.
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
16-year-old shot in North Las Vegas
A 16-year-old was hospitalized but was expected to survive after a shooting in North Las Vegas, near Centennial Parkway and Fifth Street, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. North Las Vegas police spokesman Aaron Patty gives an update. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
3-year-old boy shot in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas Police Officer Aaron Patty talks about an accidental shooting that left a 3-year-old boy “fighting for his life” on Nov. 10, 2018.
Senior Citizen Carjacking Attack -- 3 Suspects Sought
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detectives are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the three attackers who carjacked and beat a 78-year-old man near Fremont and east Charleston on Tuesday. (LVMPD)
Henderson Police Department Chief Latesha Watson Talks Change
11-year-old girl shot, killed in North Las Vegas
An 11-year-old girl is dead after she was struck by gunfire Thursday night during a shooting in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas police on deadly shooting
North Las Vegas police spokesman Eric Leavitt briefs the media about a shooting that left an 11-year-old girl dead on Nov. 1, 2018. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stephan Bonnar DUI Arrest
Stephan Bonnar arrested for DUI in Nevada.
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss. Susan Nash, 52, was killed in a shooting along with her daughter and one of her three sons on Sunday night. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Sayegh Cold Case Turns 40
Cary Sayegh was abducted from the playground of the Albert Einstein Hebrew Day School in Las Vegas in 1978. His body has never been found. (File Photo)
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vehicle of Interest in January Homicide
Las Vegas police released footage Friday of a “vehicle of interest” from a deadly shooting in January. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Hostage escapes clutches of robber before shooting
Metropolitan Police Department footage shows a man wearing a motorcycle helmet, identified by police as 27-year-old Mario B. Trejo, with one arm wrapped around a woman’s neck and held a handgun to her head.
Sunset Park Vigil
A small group of people gathered in Sunset Park to remember the three children recently killed in the area.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like