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Justice court, municipal court judges rate well with lawyers

Of 31 judges in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas justice and municipal courts, a sampling of Southern Nevada lawyers said three don’t deserve to keep their jobs.

Of those judges, Henderson Municipal Court Judge Diana Hampton had the lowest retention rating, with 38 percent, based on 55 respondents to the Review-Journal’s 2013 Judicial Performance Evaluation.

Hampton was called rude, ill-prepared and late in the anonymous comments section.

One respondent praised Hampton for being a “strong female judge so she rubs a lot of attorneys the wrong way, but she knows her stuff.”

But most others were highly critical of her punctuality in beginning court and the length of time it takes to get through cases.

“Probably costs the Henderson taxpayers an additional $100k every year with her being consistently late,” another lawyer wrote of Hampton.

Another added that Hampton was “overly rude to almost everyone who appears before her, be they prosecution, defense, or civilian.”

Hampton did not respond to requests for comment regarding the survey.

Two judges in Las Vegas Justice Court scored below 50 percent in their retention scores.

Of the 163 lawyers who rated Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen, 48 percent said he should retain his job.

Hafen, a former career prosecutor, was praised by some respondents for his professionalism and criticized by others for handing down harsh sentences.

“He is great. He is very professional and listens to both sides. Public safety is his big concern. His courtroom is run extremely efficiently,” one attorney wrote.

Another said, “He is rude, biased and inconsiderate. He is too harsh in his rulings and unfair. He creates sentences tougher than the statute, leaving the public unable to know what to expect.”

Hafen disagreed that he is too harsh toward defendants who fail to complete probation requirements in the allotted time.

The judge said he has no plans to give defendants four, five or six chances.

“I’m not going to fault myself for holding people accountable. I feel people need to be held accountable for their actions. And I think the public expects that as well. Many defense lawyers feel I’m being too harsh. I guess it’s just how you look at things,” said Hafen, who isn’t up for re-election until 2016.

The judge said he would examine the constructive comments made in the survey, but felt he is both courteous and respectful of lawyers and defendants.

“Many times, if a defendant doesn’t understand what is happening, I take the time to explain the law,” Hafen said.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Janiece Marshall received a 44 percent retention rating from 147 lawyers who responded to the survey.

Marshall was criticized for running her courtroom at a snail’s pace, and some questioned her legal acumen.

“Has criminal calendars lasting almost two hours longer than any other department on a regular basis. Does not possess the criminal knowledge to be trusted as a jurist,” a respondent said.

But others praised her thoroughness.

“Judge Marshall is attentive, detailed and thorough in her preparation for court and in making her rulings,” one lawyer wrote. “She is fair, reasonable, and well-suited to the bench. She treats all who appear in front of her with courtesy and respect, and her intellect and dedication to her position are a credit to the bench.”

Marshall took exception to complaints that her court calendar moved slowly.

“I don’t feel my court takes any longer than any other department,” she said. “I do allow parties to make arguments, whether an attorney or the people. I do allow people to have their day in court. When you do allow people to comment, it takes longer. It is my job to hear that evidence and those arguments.”

Marshall, who isn’t up for re-election until 2016, said she always appreciates constructive criticism.

Marshall said she even tried to move her schedule around to accommodate the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office, but the schedule for bringing defendants from the jail forced her to revert to her previous schedule.

“When I joined the bench after 20 years in private practice, my intent was and continues to be to ensure that all parties have their day in court. We handle important matters that impact people’s lives,” the judge said. “I appreciate the concern by some attorneys that my calendar is long. Because I do consider the arguments of all parties to present their case, other attorneys appreciate my thoroughness and fairness in hearing cases.”

The high-scoring judges included Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe Sciscento, with an 89 percent retention rating; Henderson Justice of the Peace Stephen George, with a 90 percent retention rating; and North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Kalani Hoo, with a 91 percent retention rating.

The high-scoring Municipal Court judges were Las Vegas Municipal Court judges Bert Brown and Martin Hastings, both with 89 percent retention ratings; Henderson Municipal Court Judge Douglas Hedger, with an 88 percent retention rating, and North Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Sean Hoeffgen, with a 66 percent retention rating.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.

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