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The Halverson-Hardcastle harangue cries out for a change of venue

I have long suspected the Regional Justice Center was cursed.

No, really.

From its architectural quirks to its costly construction delays, the $185 million money pit was millions over budget and four years overdue when it opened its doors in November 2005. The building was a local laughingstock before it began dispensing justice.

An edifice meant to symbolize the sanctity of our legal system wound up looking like the world’s largest comedy club. Take my leaky roof, please.

The laughter has only risen since then, and last week it reached a cynical crescendo with the banning of hapless judicial rookie Elizabeth Halverson by her arch-enemy/second banana District Judge Kathy Hardcastle.

What a joke.

Halverson’s hamstrung judicial career began earlier this year when she took office and immediately ran afoul of the chief judge. Halverson was a law clerk for nine years before Hardcastle fired her in 2004. Halverson later ran unsuccessfully for the Family Court judicial seat held by Hardcastle’s former husband, Gerald Hardcastle.

So much for collegiality and professionalism.

The complaints against Halverson began to pile up the moment she took office. Staffers exited, attorneys complained, and Hardcastle was there to bust her chops at every turn.

Halverson made the chief judge’s job easy by failing to engage her colleagues and lacking the energy and sound reasoning taxpayers ought to be able to expect from someone they’re paying six figures a year. Tales of Halverson falling asleep on the bench and making odd and obnoxious requests of staffers were common.

Off the bench, Clark County inspectors received an anonymous complaint and were called out to Halverson’s messy residence. A citation was issued, and accurate but mortifying stories followed in the media.

As amazing as this might sound, that’s nothing compared to the chaos that ensued in her courtroom last week. Halverson was accompanied to court, one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the state, by two bodyguards, one of whom carried a telescoping, clublike weapon called an ASP. She later locked herself in her chambers with her personal security team.

Halverson had yet another parting of the ways with a judicial executive assistant, this time with courthouse veteran Ileen Spoor, who told the Review-Journal she believed the rookie judge had gone crazy and had taken her personal belongings and private e-mail before bailiffs and Metro officers were called in.

It’s also true that Halverson confiscated from Spoor’s desk a file folder said to be filled with outstanding traffic tickets.

Which raises the question of whether someone was fixing tickets for favored attorneys and friends in keeping with a long judicial tradition in Southern Nevada.

Can you believe your tax dollars are paying these people’s salaries?

Wronged or not, Spoor can expect some pointed questions.

"We’re not going to allow people to do something illegal," a justice center official said. "But it’s not her (Halverson’s) job to investigate that."

Court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said, "We would want to know about it. That’s revenue that goes back to the court."

There’s plenty to investigate, including whether a bomb threat was related to the incident.

On Thursday, Chief Judge Hardcastle issued a statement banning Halverson from the courthouse. Hardcastle had the backing of Presiding Judges Stewart Bell, Art Ritchie and Betsy Gonzalez, all of whom have tried unsuccessfully to mentor Halverson.

Halverson gave her enemies, real and perceived, all the ammunition they needed when she brought two bodyguards to the courthouse and allowed them to avoid detection. At least the SWAT Team wasn’t called out — don’t laugh, it could have happened — and no one was injured.

If they truly had the best interests of our beleaguered local judicial system in mind, Halverson would resign from the bench and Hardcastle would step aside as chief judge. Halverson’s career is in shambles. Hardcastle has proven she lacks the temperament to lead the court.

What’s more likely?

It doesn’t take much speculating to guess that Halverson will file a federal discrimination lawsuit against Hardcastle and the court system.

And guess who will end up footing that bill as well?

You see, that’s the most painful part of the cursed Regional Justice Center and the endless laugh track that echoes through its halls.

In the end, the joke is always on us.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.

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