Published Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 | 12:10 p.m.
Updated Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 | 12:33 p.m.
The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline issued an order today that permanently removes Judge Elizabeth Halverson from the bench.
Judge Halverson was suspended from the bench in July 2007. She lost a recent bid for re-election in the August primary election.
She faced a disciplinary hearing in August on charges of misconduct. After two weeks of hearings in August, the commission heard a dozen complaints, including that the judge was accused of sleeping on the bench and treating her staff like servants.
“Some judges are in office for an entire career and do not accumulate the type of dismal professional history that the record in this case establishes,” said the commission, in an order signed by its chairman Greg Ferraro.
The commission found her guilty on counts of sleeping during hearings, making improper contact with jurors; mistreating her staff, improperly hiring two bodyguards and making improper and misleading statements to the press.
The commission said there was sufficient evidence to show Halverson slept during portions of two criminal and one civil trial.
“What makes this series of three occasions more serious is that Judge Halverson fell asleep in front of juries who were already empanelled for trial under her supervision and she did so within months of taking office, not years after having presided over hundreds of trials,” said the commission.
And the 28-page decision said Halverson did not take any steps to cure the problem.
Halverson, elected in 2006, was cleared on eight counts.
The commission said a judge should never have contact with a jury, especially a deliberating jury except through limited exception. The first instance was not willful but a result of her inexperience. The second contact was willful.
“Eating or chatting with a deliberating jury and answering their law-related and case-related questions … is so fundamentally wrong that even a first-year law clerk should know better….” the commission said.
What makes this egregious is that the judge shifted the blame to attorneys “by making unethical contact with the media,” the decision said.
Halverson removed bailiff Johnnie Jordan Jr., and brought in two individuals who were unlicensed to serve as bodyguards. The commission found there was no reason for Halverson to hire two men when all the other judges in the district only had a bailiff.
The commission said, “She willfully and foolishly utilized the power of her office to actively undermine wholly valid and unburdensome security measures…”
Halverson mistreated her staff, berated them with foul language and required her bailiff to massage her feet, neck and shoulders.
In April 2007, Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle called a meeting to talk about complaints being made by the staff of Halverson. There were three other judges present including Judge Stewart Bell. The commission found that Halverson went to the newspapers and made false statements about what happened in the session.
Halverson accused Judge Bell of yelling at her and the other judges of screaming or throwing their hands in the air during the meeting.
“The import of the charge is that Judge Halverson knowingly lied to a reporter, albeit about a serious administrative matter, and in doing so she essentially accused three well-respected judges of misbehaving,” said the commission. Halverson was trying to demonstrate there was a conspiracy against her, said the decision.
Halverson was found guilty of requiring Judge Hardcastle to go through an attorney to communicate with her. She would not cooperate with Court Administrator Chuck Short. And she called the police to report that “unauthorized personnel” were attempting to get into her chambers when it was Short who was authorized to be in the office.
“The evidence is overwhelming that shortly after Judge Halverson was elected and took office in January 2007 her behavior and her failure to cooperate with other judges and court officials led to substantial problems” for the judicial system in Clark County, said the discipline commission.
“The damage resulting from her antics and willful misconduct will be felt by the judicial system for a significant future period of time,” said the commission.
The judge had continued to receive a $130,000 annual salary during the suspension.
With her removal, Judge Halverson can never serve on the judicial bench again.
Then on Sept. 4 Judge Halverson called Metro Police and said she was attacked by her husband wielding a frying pan. Officer arrived at the Halverson home in the 4100 block of Oxnard Circle near Tropicana Avenue and U.S. 95.
It took 100 staples to close the wounds to the judge's scalp and head.
Police broke through a security gate. Edward Halverson, the judge's husband, opened the front door, shirtless and wearing green camouflage shorts. He had blood on the shorts, and his arms and legs, and had smears of blood on his back, a police report said.
Edward Halverson has been charged with attempted murder with a deadly weapon and is awaiting trial.