As if North Las Vegas government didn’t have enough problems to deal with, it appears a severe case of black robe disease has struck Municipal Court.
Judge Catherine Ramsey is showing many of the symptoms of the sickness, including an outsized ego, the belief that she is accountable to no one, a desire to stick it to people she doesn’t like, and a general sense of entitlement.
Worse, city officials say they have little recourse in dealing with Ramsey’s increasingly outrageous behavior, which comes at great cost to the beleaguered taxpayers of North Las Vegas.
As reported this month by the Review-Journal’s James DeHaven, five formal complaints have been filed against Ramsey by current and former employees in her first three years on the bench, over “hostile,” “intimidating” and “discriminatory” conduct. Those complaints have cost city taxpayers $53,000 so far in settlements and investigation costs.
But a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Ramsey’s former judicial assistant, Susan Forti, has brought out the worst in the judge. Ms. Forti, a longtime court employee, alleges she was fired by text message shortly after Ramsey’s election in 2011, after Mrs. Forti and her husband, then-Police Chief Joseph Forti, had campaigned on her behalf. (Ah, public employees and politics.)
The city attorney’s office has refused to defend Ramsey in the lawsuit, as has the state attorney general. So Ramsey took it upon herself to bill the taxpayers anyway: She swiped $12,000 in legal fees on her city purchasing card between December and January.
If an employee runs up five figures in charges on a company card on something the company said it wouldn’t pay for, that’s theft. An amount that high would result in a visit from the police and, if not repaid, an arrest. But because Ramsey is an elected official, and a judge at that, city officials say they’re stuck. It could take the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline years to investigate Ramsey and schedule a hearing, assuming a complaint were filed with the agency.
Meanwhile, attorneys say Ramsey has criticized city officials from the bench and appears to be dismissing cases and reducing charges out of spite for the city attorney and City Hall. Those actions are costing the city, which is barely solvent and has almost no reserves, as much as $10,000 per month in fee and fine collections.
Judge Ramsey asked for the public’s trust when she was elected to the bench. She is treating it like a throne. Her city’s residents and government, crushed by the Great Recession, have sacrificed accordingly. She is bleeding them dry.
The city might be limited in how it can handle Ramsey, but residents have an option: Voters could petition to recall her. All it would take is a little more than 800 signatures. The cost of an election would be cheap compared with whatever new damage Ramsey might do.
So, who’ll provide the first signature?