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September 19, 2014

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Judges’ support less than stated

Chief District Judge Kathy Hardcastle, who wants control of the Clark County clerk's court responsibilities, doesn't have as much support from judges as she has said.

On Tuesday Hardcastle told the Sun that 30 of the 33 judges supported her plan to take over the supervision of court clerks, who now report to Clark County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre. Parraguirre opposes the move.

Hardcastle mistakenly included among the 33 herself and recently retired District Judge John McGroarty. Of the 31 judges, five of them said Wednesday they were not consulted about her proposal, and three said they didn't like the idea.

Hardcastle did not return calls seeking comment on the judges' reactions.

She previously sent a memo to the judges that offered talking points for those who support her plan if questioned by reporters.

Among the ones who oppose her plan is District Judge Mark Denton.

"I'm certainly open to persuasion, but right now I'm presumably against the move," Denton said.

"The chief judge is a strong chief judge and has the legal authority to do this, and she's doing a fine job overseeing the court," Denton said. "But I would like to see a judges meeting scheduled so all of us can share and hear each other's thoughts on the plan."

The issue has come up before .

In 2003, then-Chief District Judge Gene Porter created a committee to examine a proposed takeover of the clerk's court duties, and then put it to an advisory vote of all judges.

The judges rejected the idea, 22 to 4.

District Judge Valerie Adair, who voted against the 2003 proposal, said Wednesday she hadn't been briefed or consulted prior to Hardcastle's announcement of the new plan.

"I don't think we necessarily need to be managing the clerk's office and taking on those responsibilities right now," Adair said .

"I was told (Hardcastle) discussed it with the majority of the judges, but I know I wasn't one of them," Adair said. "I would like to have seen a judges meeting on this issue."

Family Court Judge Jennifer Elliott said she learned of Hardcastle's plan on Friday, but that her opinion wasn't solicited.

"I called Kathy (Hardcastle) on Monday because I felt a judges meeting with a vote would be in order and provide a way for everyone to share their opinions," Elliott said. "She told me it would be discussed (at a judges gathering) this weekend in Primm, but it wasn't going to be put to a vote."

Elliott said she voted against the takeover in 2003 and was unsure how she felt about the issue now.

District Judge Lee Gates said he learned of the plan in a memo from Hardcastle on Tuesday, and said he hadn't formed an opinion. Typically, he said, judges discuss "most big decisions."

District Judge Stewart Bell said he respects Hardcastle's authority to make the decision and will abide by it. But if he were asked to vote on the issue, he said he would "vote not to."

"In my experiences, things are going well within the current structure of the clerk's office," Bell said. "But again, I'm not privy to all of the information the chief judge has, and whatever she decides I support."

Among those who support Hardcastle's plan is District Judge Donald Mosley, who called it "long overdue."

"In my mind the court clerk's responsibility in large part is to facilitate the court and not run her office in spite of the court, and the latter in my mind is how Parraguirre has been running her office," Mosley said.

District Judge Valorie Vega said she wasn't surprised by the idea, which has "been thrown about for the last 30 years."

Vega said that when she served as a Municipal Court judge, she saw the benefits of having clerks work under the court administration versus the elected county clerk.

She said that when she discussed the plan with Hardcastle a few weeks ago, her only concern was "to ensure that employees were able to retain their collective bargaining agreement, and the chief judge assured me they will."

Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle, the chief judge's former husband, said the move "is obviously a good idea" because allowing court clerks to operate under the wings of the elected county clerk was tantamount to outsourcing a critical court function.

Other judges supporting Hardcastle were District Judges Jesse Walsh, and Elizabeth Gonzalez, and Family Court Judge Gloria Sanchez.

District Judges Sally Loehrer, Nancy Saitta and Joseph Bonaventure and Family Court Judge Sandra Pomrenze were out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

The remaining judges did not return calls.

Several are attending a judges meeting in Primm today through Saturday.

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