The Nevada State Commission on Judicial Discipline has filed charges of professional misconduct against both North Las Vegas Municipal Court judges.
The charges are not criminal but allege the judges violated the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct.
Municipal Judges Catherine Ramsey and Sean Hoeffgen will have the opportunity to respond to the charges and could face potential discipline ranging from a letter of reprimand to removal, or possibly be cleared of all charges.
The judges, who make up the city’s entire municipal bench, will have 20 days from Monday, when the formal charges were filed, to respond. If they don’t respond, the commission will take that as an admission of guilt. Once the answer is in, a public hearing is to be set within 60 days, unless both the commission and the target of the charges waive the deadline.
Ramsey could not be reached for comment. Hoeffgen referred the Las Vegas Review-Journal to attorney Kevin Hansen, who declined to comment. He said he had not yet seen the charges.
Ramsey, Hoeffgen charges
Ramsey is charged with six counts of judicial misconduct. According to the charging document, she used her city purchasing card to pay for a lawsuit, made her assistant do her personal errands and amended charges in cases against the wishes of both the defense and the prosecutor.
According to the charging document, Ramsey “generally created or fostered an atmosphere of fear and apprehension for the clerks, marshals and her (judicial executive assistant).”
Hoeffgen is charged with four counts of misconduct, including letting Mayor John Lee influence his decisions involving the court.
According to the charging document, in summer 2013 Hoeffgen decided to go back on an agreement with Ramsey to let her become chief judge, in part, because he believed Lee wanted him to continue on as chief judge.
From that point on, Hoeffgen refused to cooperate with Ramsey and “has taken positions or made decisions or allowed it to appear that he has taken positions or made decisions, regarding the administration of the court which were improperly based on his perceived desires of the North Las Vegas Mayor or City administration instead of the best interests of the court,” according to the charging document.
The charges stem from the commission’s investigation into complaints filed against the judges. The complaints are not made public until the hearing. The complaint against Ramsey was filed by North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Douglass Morgan in May 2014.
Ramsey is also the target of a recall effort. She has said the recall is a political hit job and is challenging it. The city has denied involvement in Ramsey’s recall.
Morgan is running against Ramsey in the recall. Her campaign manager is the same political consultant handling the recall effort.
Arguments in that case were heard in October 2015, but the Nevada Supreme Court has yet to rule on the matter.
Ramsey is running for a District Court seat. She is up against incumbent Judge Eric Johnson. Johnson is the judge who ruled the recall against her should go forward. It’s his ruling that she is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Mayor ethics complaints
Formal complaints filed in March with the Nevada Commission on Ethics against Lee by two longtime human resources employees, who have since been laid off, made note of a rocky relationship between the city and its two judges.
According to that complaint, Ryann Juden, then chief of staff and now assistant city manager, and Lee had a meeting with Ramsey where Juden told her he could “make a pamphlet of half-truths and those stupid low-income citizens wouldn’t know what to believe.” Juden denies making the remark and denies the meeting took place.
As for Hoeffgen, the complaint says Lee told the judge, “I made sure no one ran against you, so now you owe me.”
It also alleges that Lee told the judge to fire the city’s court administrator, telling him he knew someone to replace her. The court administrator has not been fired.
Emails obtained by the Review-Journal echo the tension between the court and City Hall. In one email, Hoeffgen told his court administrator the mayor called him and was very upset and accused the court of stalling on hiring new bailiffs. According to the email, this wasn’t the first time the mayor felt the court wasn’t moving fast enough.
In another email, the city manager emailed the mayor’s chief of staff about Court Administrator Cindy Marshall: “Looks like you were right about Cindy. My patience is really running out with her and the Judges 🙁 “
Contact Bethany Barnes at email@example.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes.