When embattled District Judge Elizabeth Halverson was told by fellow judges to seek mental help, she met at least four times with a therapist, who concluded the judge was “coping amazingly well,” despite numerous controversies surrounding her judicial demeanor and decisions.
“I diagnosed Judge Halverson with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood,” Patricia Delgado wrote in a May 22 letter that Halverson included in a petition to the Nevada Supreme Court.
“Judge Halverson is coping amazingly well considering her situation. At this point, my role is more of a sounding board and support person as Judge Halverson has very appropriate coping skills,” Delgado wrote. “Her feelings of anxiety and sadness are based in rational thought processes, and are an appropriate reaction to her very stressful situation.”
Halverson included the letter in a July 12 petition that sought to quash a closed-door hearing held Monday in which the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline was considering suspending the judge.
The high court denied her motion Friday, and the hearing went forward. Halverson’s request, which included 122 pages of exhibits that shed light on communications between herself and the commission, was subsequently unsealed.
Halverson remained on the bench Wednesday and, because of the secrecy of the commission’s proceedings, the Review-Journal could not determine whether the commission had voted since Monday not to suspend her; if the commission was still deliberating; if it had suspended her and was drafting the formal decision to file with the Nevada Supreme Court; or if Halverson was allowed to remain on the bench while she appealed the commission’s decisions to the high court.
According to documents from the commission included in Halverson’s petition, commissioners received a letter from Chief District Judge Kathy Hardcastle on April 23. She submitted to commissioners a report from three veteran judges charged with overseeing Halverson, “for review and further action, if any, that you (the commission) deem necessary.”
David Sarnowski, executive director of the commission, then filed a complaint, which lays out allegations against Halverson launched by former staff and the three judges.
“I have authority to do so (file a complaint). I don’t get into discussion about how often I do so. Occasionally, it’s been required,” Sarnowski said Wednesday.
After considering the complaint during a May 9 conference call, the commission voted unanimously to suspend Halverson and concluded preliminarily that she “poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice.”
The suspension was temporary, pending an investigation into the complaint by the commission. The commission agreed to stay the suspension after Halverson requested a hearing.
But they stated in their order the suspension is necessary on an interim basis because there was substantial evidence to believe:
• Halverson is “without sufficient legal abilities to conduct trials in criminal cases,” which could harm the administration of justice.
• She failed to perform her duties impartially and diligently and mistreated staff.
• She fell asleep during a court proceeding on at least one occasion.
• She is biased against certain attorneys and has failed to work cooperatively with other judges.
In its order, the commission also required Halverson to undergo mental and physical examinations. However, by then Halverson already had been seeing Delgado and she provided letters to the commission from the therapist as well as her doctor, claiming she’s fit to serve.
Halverson and her attorney did not return calls from the Review-Journal on Wednesday.
The fact that the Supreme Court made those documents public probably is an indication they’ll make a notice of suspension public should the commission make such a decision, a district court source said.
“If and when an order of suspension in any given case is presented to the Supreme Court it would be up to that court to decide to disclose it or not and when to do so,” Sarnowski said.
Court officials said the Supreme Court also might release its opinion on a lawsuit Halverson filed against Hardcastle in May once the commission has made its decision.
Halverson argued in her Supreme Court petition that her mental and physical capabilities, as well as her legal training qualify her to continue manning the bench.
“As a human being I have made mistakes and I learn from each of them,” she wrote in an affidavit. “None of my mistakes constitutes any sort of ‘threat to the public.’ “
A letter from her physician, Dr. Michael Jacobs, states Halverson is in a wheelchair because of osteoarthritis in her feet and knees, which makes it difficult to walk. She also has sleep apnea, which requires daily oxygen.
The Feb. 13 event in which Halverson was accused of falling asleep at the bench could have been triggered by hypoglycemia, Jacobs said.
“I had failed to eat that day,” Halverson, a diabetic, stated in her affidavit, adding that she has taken precautions since to avoid another such incident.
Delgado, the therapist, said Halverson came in for a session April 10 and had three additional visits.
“Judge Halverson does not appear to have paranoia. Although she distrusts specific people and suspects these people have malevolent motives, there appears to be sufficient evidence of this,” Delgado wrote. “There is also evidence of attacks on her character.”
In her affidavit, Halverson states she did not create a hostile work environment.
But also included in the documents Hardcastle submitted to the commission is a discrimination complaint Halverson’s former bailiff, Johnnie Jordan, made to court administrators.
In it, he states Halverson treated him in inappropriate, abusive and hostile ways, and required him to rub her feet and back.
He referenced an incident in which he said Halverson put her arm around him and said he was “her man during the day.” He said the comment was sexually harassing in nature.
In her motion to the Supreme Court, Halverson’s attorneys argued any mistakes Halverson has made are no different than other new judges.
Following her completion of the general jurisdiction course at the Judicial College March 29 — a standard course for all new judges — Halverson gained “wisdom, temperament and education to perform her duties,” her attorneys wrote.
Halverson’s current staff also submitted affidavits.
Pamela Humphrey, a court clerk assigned to Halverson in March, said she had no complaints against Halverson, who has never mistreated her.
“Although I had heard some nonsensical rumors from some personnel about the judge, I discarded them completely because they did not comport with what I had witnessed about Judge Halverson,” Humphrey stated.
Her law clerk, Sally Owen, also filed an affidavit.
“Her focus is always on the public good and she sets a high standard,” Owen wrote. “I admire the judge for wanting only the best for the public she serves. She is always very professional.”