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A race to judgment in North Las Vegas courts

Nevada’s Commission on Judicial Discipline is not generally know for the rapidity of its process.

But we’re nonetheless cheered by the fact that the commission acted decisively in filing misconduct charges against two North Las Vegas municipal court judges — together, they comprise the city’s entire bench! Judge Catherine Ramsey and Judge Sean Hoeffgen each face charges of misconduct in office.

Judge Hoeffgen stands accused of allowing North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee to improperly influence decisions about court administration, including persuading the judge to back out of a deal that would have allowed Judge Ramsey to become chief judge and refusing to cooperate with her.

Judge Ramsey’s transgressions, meanwhile, should be well familiar to anyone who regularly reads this page.

She’s allegedly cost North Las Vegas taxpayers more than $50,000 in settlements for lawsuits stemming from complaints by court employees. (The complaint alleges she’s created a climate of fear and apprehension at the court.) She’s allegedly used her city purchasing card to pay her private attorney, after the city refused to underwrite her defense. She allegedly used her judicial assistant to run personal errands, and allegedly amended charges in cases against the wishes of both prosecution and defense.

Judge Ramsey has been targeted for recall from office, and organizers easily surmounted the 1,984-signature requirement. But that election has been stalled by Judge Ramsey’s unique legal theory: While voters may install judges at popular elections, they may not use the mechanism of recall to reverse the result of one of those elections. District Court Judge Eric Johnson correctly dismissed that idea as manifestly wrong, but Judge Ramsey has appealed his decision to the Supreme Court.

This being North Las Vegas, there are some twists and turns. The author of the Judicial Discipline complaint against Judge Ramsey is North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Douglass Morgan, who is seeking to replace Judge Ramsey on the bench and who shares a political consultant with the recall committee. Ms. Morgan has taken advantage of a loophole in the law — an election has not yet been scheduled — to keep her fundraising secret.

Meanwhile, Judge Ramsey is actually seeking higher office, not coincidentally a revenge bid against Judge Johnson, the jurist who rejected her bizarre recall defense.

Penalties for violations of the judicial conduct code range from a simple letter of reprimand to removal from office, an extreme punishment that nonetheless has been applied by the commission recently in the case of disgraced Family Court Judge Steven Jones. We believe the charges against Judge Ramsey deserve a similar punishment, and if that punishment can be imposed by the commission sooner than by the Nevada Supreme Court and recall voters, so much the better.

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