Paranoid. Willful. Mercurial. Disrespectful. Loud. Offensive. Boorish. Quixotic. Impaired. Combative. Imperial. Unrepentant. Disrespectful. And a liar unfit to be a judge.
Yes, that’s the District Judge Elizabeth Halverson I observed at a Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board meeting in September 2007. But those aren’t my words.
Those are the words used by the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission to describe Halverson when the commissioners blessedly banned her from ever again running for a judicial job in Nevada.
"She deliberately decided to wreak as much havoc as possible upon the operation of the entire judicial system of the state of Nevada, including the Commission, without recognizing the severe impact and consequences of her actions," the opinion stated.
Unfortunately, the brutal assessment of the judge won’t stop her from running for some other elected office. With her apparent lust for publicity, I bet she’ll file again for some other job.
The commissioners’ wrath was particularly intense because she lied to them under oath about a meeting she had with three experienced judges asked to mentor her, making it sound as if they had misbehaved. Now it was one thing to lie to the news media. But to lie to the commissioners under oath was "considerably more egregious."
Anybody who watched a mere hour of the televised seven-day hearing probably knew that the commission was going to ban her from running again. Halverson’s own behavior (and her lies) did her in, and she showed exactly why she was unfit to be a judge. The voters bounced her before the commission did, leaving commissioners with only one choice: Can she run again for a judgeship? The answer was easy: No.
The 28-page document went over every charge filed by special counsel Dorothy Nash Holmes, a Reno attorney, dismissing some of the name-calling charges but upholding many others. The opinion praised the job done by Halverson’s attorney, Michael Schwartz of Michigan.
But its evaluation of Halverson was one of the most brutal legal documents I’ve ever read.
Commissioners said her interactions with a deliberating jury were so wrong, a first-year law clerk would have known better.
Then there was her paranoia. The commissioners said that while Halverson decided the source of all her problems was Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle, they found "no hard evidence to substantiate this paranoid outlook."
Much has been made of Halverson sleeping on the bench, her foul mouth to her staff, the foot rubs demanded of her bailiff — all upheld as true by the commission. But commissioners made the right point that it wasn’t the fact that she fell asleep, it’s that she did nothing to prevent it from happening again.
They concluded what I had observed: When Halverson made mistakes, it was always someone else’s fault.
I thought the opinion was absolutely on point. My only gripe is that the system allowed the problem to drag out over 19 months, starting from the time an investigation was requested in April 2007 to the point at which charges were publicly filed in January 2008 until the decision was filed Monday.
The commission followed the laws, but laws need to be changed so that it doesn’t take 19 months to remove a bad judge. The panel itself should consider making internal changes to speed up the process so that its actions don’t spread out over years.
Elizabeth Halverson is Nevada’s version of John Wayne Bobbitt.
His claim to fame was that his penis was cut off by his wife in 1993, and yet now, every time there’s a change in his life, a silly new job, a silly new movie, a not-so-silly arrest for domestic abuse, it’s a news story.
Just like Bobbitt, Halverson has joined the ranks of stories so odd, the press feels compelled to write about every twist and turn.
She brought embarrassment to the state’s judiciary and to Nevada. People all over the nation are talking about her, laughing at her. Sadly, even when her husband beat her with a frying pan, some laughed.
It’s time to stop laughing at Elizabeth Halverson. It’s time to start ignoring her. Now that Halverson is no longer a judge, no longer on the taxpayer’s dole and no longer a threat to justice, she’s irrelevant.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison/Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission decision