weather icon Clear

Family Court judge accuses agitator Steve Sanson of intimidation

Updated September 9, 2017 - 5:37 pm

A respected Family Court judge recently recused himself from a case after accusing Steve Sanson, a controversial figure in Nevada politics, of trying to “influence and intimidate” him.

Judge Bryce Duckworth strongly condemned Sanson, president of Veterans in Politics International, in an order filed Tuesday in a pending divorce and child custody case. At an earlier court hearing in the case, Duckworth said the matter should be investigated.

“This Court reiterates that it is inappropriate to communicate with a judicial officer off the record about a pending case — at any time and under any circumstances,” the judge said in his written order. “Mr. Sanson’s attempts to deflect blame to the Court are appalling.”

The order came days after Sanson filed an ethics complaint against Duckworth with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline. The complaint cited the earlier hearing in the divorce case, during which Duckworth similarly accused Sanson of interference.

Sanson, who is a Marine veteran, has said the purpose of Veterans in Politics is to “expose corruption and unethical behaviors.”

He frequently criticizes judges and attorneys and has interviewed political candidates and office holders on his organization’s online radio show. His organization previously endorsed Duckworth.

Sanson also is behind a Facebook page called “WAR Declared on Clark County Family Court System.”

Text message exchange

During the earlier hearing and in his order of recusal, Duckworth cited a series of text messages Sanson sent to the judge’s personal cellphone:

On May 11, Sanson texted: “Judge I need to speak with you.”

On May 12, Duckworth responded: “What do you need to talk about?”

On May 12, Sanson texted: “Call me at your convenience or we can grab a cup of tea.”

After the last text, Duckworth called Sanson. During their conversation, according to the judge’s order, Sanson asked, “Why do you allow Marshal Willick to get away with so much ‘crap’ in Doug Ansell’s case?”

Willick is an attorney in the Ansell case — the ongoing divorce case from which Duckworth has recused himself. Willick also has sued Sanson separately for defamation.

“If Mr. Sanson’s sole motivation was merely to attack Mr. Willick in general and not to influence the Court about a specific case, he could have done so,” Duckworth wrote. “Although such communication remains improper, it is more egregious that Mr. Sanson knowingly and intentionally identified Doug Ansell’s case.”

Sanson’s lawyer, Maggie McLetchie, who also represents the Las Vegas Review-Journal, maintained Friday that Sanson did nothing wrong.

“Steve is not a litigant in that case. Steve is not an attorney. Steve is not a judge,” McLetchie said. “He wasn’t trying to intimidate anybody, and his comments to Duckworth only pertained to Willick’s general behavior in the courtroom. He wasn’t calling for any particular outcome or decision in the case.”

Question of free speech

McLetchie defended Sanson in a separate case in which another Family Court lawyer, Jennifer Abrams, sued Sanson for defamation. A judge tossed out the case in court, noting it targeted and chilled free speech. Abrams is appealing that decision.

“Regardless of what anybody thinks about Mr. Sanson and Veterans in Politics, he has an absolute right to comment on courtroom behavior, including that of powerful and prominent attorneys,” McLetchie said.

Sanson noted the text messages in question were sent months ago and already had been addressed in court.

“What we’re trying to do is have both judges and the attorneys follow the law,” Sanson told the Review-Journal on Friday, referring to Veterans in Politics as a watchdog organization.

In his order, Duckworth suggested that Sanson’s mission was disingenuous.

“Mr. Sanson proudly proclaims that he has ‘declared war’ on the Family Court,” the order reads. “There is no doubt that the courts are under attack and that the entire judiciary of this great State of Nevada is on notice that, behind that false banner of ‘justice and corruption’ is an individual and group who seek to manipulate, intimidate and control.”

In the Review-Journal’s most recent Judicial Performance Evaluations, which allowed attorneys to rate judges, Duckworth had the highest retention scores of any Family Court judge.

In 2011, 94 percent of lawyers recommended Duckworth for retention. In 2013, 93 percent said he should keep his job.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto