Nevada’s judicial discipline board is unlikely to act on a series of complaints filed against candidates in the 2020 primary unless the targets of the complaints are elected.
Paul Deyhle, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Discipline, said the board does not have authority over attorneys who have not been sworn in to seats on the bench.
With the June 9 election day approaching, at least three grievances filed with the commission this month questioned campaign advertisements of judicial candidates.
The commission could meet to review the allegations “so we’re not starting from scratch” if the candidates are elected, but the group would stop short of conducting a public hearing or imposing discipline, Deyhle said.
In 2011, the Nevada Supreme Court disbanded the state’s Standing Committee on Judicial Ethics and Election Practices, which had imposed decisions and attempted to resolve ethical disputes during campaigns, according to Deyhle.
Candidates too often had used the committee “as a weapon” against opponents, he said.
The judicial commission’s purpose is “to investigate allegations of Judicial misconduct in office, violations of the Revised Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct, or disability of judges,” according to its website, which does not specify investigations into judicial candidates.
The code states that candidates may not “seek, accept, or use endorsements or publicly stated support from a political organization.”
Parts of the accusations focused on a campaign flyer under the banner of the Nevada Republican Club, which listed candidates endorsed by the group and stated that the candidates had paid for the advertisement.
Days later, attorney Bill Terry, who is not a judicial candidate, filed a separate complaint against Jacob Reynolds, who is listed on the flyer along with incumbents Joe Hardy Jr., Ron Israel and William Voy, and attorneys Adam Ganz, Dan Gilliam and Margaret Pickard.
The state’s judicial canons allow for candidates to “group themselves into slates or other alliances to conduct their campaigns more effectively.”
Reynolds is squaring off against attorneys Caesar Almase, Tara Clark Newberry and Bruce Gale in a race for Department 21.
Before Terry’s complaint, attorney Mickey Bohn had filed a similar criticism against Gilliam in the five-way race for Department 24 against attorneys Joe Vadala, Dena Rinetti and Erika Ballou.
Family Court candidate Jack Fleeman also criticized online videos and photos posted by Pickard in a race for a newly created seat.
While judicial candidates are limited in what they can discuss on the campaign trail, the division may run deeper than the flyer.
The two candidates who filed complaints are represented by the same campaign manager, Tom Letizia, while those on the mailer are represented by David Thomas.
Thomas said that the coronavirus pandemic struck Las Vegas just as judicial races started heating up, forcing many candidates to seek alternatives on the campaign trail.
“We’re in coronavirus and everybody got cut off on funding,” Thomas said. “Now this is sour grapes after the fact.”
Thomas later added: “There are constitutional protections of free speech in place for these judicial candidates when it comes to party affiliation.”
Meanwhile, two candidates whose campaigns are managed by Letizia have promoted endorsements from the Nevada Republican Club.
“It’s just massive hypocrisy on something that’s pretty much settled law,” Thomas said. “It’s nonsense.”
Letizia said that his candidates did not pay for the club’s endorsement, though “they may have listed endorsements, which a lot of people have done.”