Thursday, Feb. 12, 1998 | 10:29 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- Clark County Family Court Judge Terrance Marren, who has resigned from the court to become Mesquite's city attorney, was formally charged Wednesday with violating judicial ethics in a highly publicized child custody case in Las Vegas.
But Special Prosecutor Frank Cremen, who prepared the complaint, said he will recommend it be dropped by the state Judicial Discipline Commission, which meets in Clark County Feb. 19.
Cremen called the complaint a marginal case, adding he did not think it should proceed. Cremen noted Marren is leaving the bench and he did not see any reason "in beating a dog that won't race again."
Marren said he believes Cremen's recommendation is based on the fact there is no evidence to back up the allegation filed by Chantel Leavitt, who lost custody of her daughter in a case over which Marren presided.
Marren stressed he is not turning in his judge's robes because of the complaint, which alleges that he sought the advice of Las Vegas attorney James Jimmerson about his divorce. Jimmerson during this time period represented James N. Kerr, an admitted drug dealer, in a child custody case against Leavitt.
After Marren granted Kerr custody, Leavitt complained to the Judicial Discipline Commission that Marren never revealed he had talked with Jimmerson about his personal problems.
The complaint, prepared by Cremen, said, "It was incumbent upon you to reveal to the litigants, particularly the litigant, Chantel Leavitt, your contact with Mr. Jimmerson concerning your own domestic matter."
Cremen said he put on "every ounce of evidence" at a closed-door probable cause hearing in December. He said some of the commissioners at that time had thoughts about dropping the case, but he was ordered to prepare the complaint.
It will be up to the commission to make the final decision next week whether to pursue the case.
Marren said there was no evidence that he was Jimmerson's client. His discussions with Jimmerson, Marren said, "never rose to the level of attorney-client."
Marren, in the hotly contested case, awarded custody to Kerr, saying the evidence that he was a drug dealer was unsubstantiated. The Nevada Supreme Court later upheld Marren's decision.
Marren earlier this week negotiated a salary package with the city of Mesquite for $80,000 a year -- a $2,900 annual pay cut -- and submitted his resignation effective Feb. 22 to Gov. Bob Miller Wednesday. He starts his new position Feb. 23 in the stateline community 80 miles north of Las Vegas.
Marren said this judicial discipline case shows the flaws in the system. These cases are supposed to be confidential until a formal complaint is filed, as it was Wednesday.
But there were extensive leaks to the news media in Southern Nevada about the complaint and the closed hearing. Marren said he's "been beaten to death all year with these leaks" because he cannot respond and tell his side of the story.
If he had commented publicly, even though there were news leaks, he could be punished by the discipline commission.
"When the case goes public, the judge should be able to talk to the public," Marren said. "It's damn troubling to go through this with my family and not being able to respond."
This is not the first time Marren has found himself under the scrutiny of the Judicial Discipline Committee. He was reprimanded and fined $1,500 for delays in reaching decisions in three Family Court cases.
Marren said he hopes the state Judicial Selection Committee will be quick to nominate three persons as his replacement and Gov. Miller to name a successor before the filing for the office opens May 4.
Marren's term would have ended in January and he said he would have run for re-election if he had not been given the Mesquite opportunity.
Before being elected a Family Court judge, Marren served from 1986 to 1992 as Nevada's first Domestic Relations referee in Las Vegas. He became one of its first Family Court judges in 1992 when the department was created.
Marren, a former North Las Vegas deputy city attorney, lives in Logandale, 30 miles from Mesquite and 60 miles from Las Vegas. He said he plans to relocate to Mesquite this summer.
He is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and holds a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a juris doctor degree from California Western School of Law.
Marren is past president of the Southern Nevada Domestic Violence Task Force.