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August 21, 2014

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Young lawyer’s first trial heard by state Supreme Court justice

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Steve Marcus

Nevada Supreme Court Justice Mark Gibbons makes a rare appearance on the bench Aug. 7, 2009, at District Court, sitting in for Judge Mark Denton.

As civil trials go, Sound & Secure v. Roni Amid isn’t going to rank as one of the most intriguing cases in District Court in Clark County.

Sound & Secure sued Amid for failing to pay $10,230 after the company installed an audio-video system at his Las Vegas home. It’s a simple breach of contract suit that took only one day to try this week.

But what makes the case worth singling out is who presided over it — Nevada Supreme Court Justice Mark Gibbons.

For one of Sound & Secure’s lawyers, Denise Balboni of the firm Kemp, Jones & Coulthard, the experience was especially noteworthy. It was her first trial.

“If anything I was a little more comfortable with Justice Gibbons,” said Balboni, a former law clerk for Chief Justice James Hardesty. “It was fabulous.”

It is rare, but not unprecedented, for a Supreme Court justice to take the bench in the lower District Court. Former Justice Bob Rose did it occasionally, and Gibbons said he and fellow Justice Bill Maupin, both former District Court judges, did it in 2003 when the courts needed help.

Gibbons said he fell into the assignment this week and doesn’t plan to make a habit of it because his plate is full at the state’s highest court.

He was in Las Vegas on Monday to hear arguments in O.J. Simpson’s bid to be released from prison on appeal and decided to stay the rest of the week to get a firsthand look at one of his pet projects, business court.

Gibbons has become the Supreme Court’s point man in the ongoing development of the business court, one of several growing specialty venues at the Regional Justice Center.

While in Las Vegas, Gibbons said he presided over some business settlement conferences and discussed possible rule changes for business court with the judges who handle those cases and lawyers who practice before the judges.

One of the judges, Mark Denton, asked Gibbons to sit in for him in Sound & Secure v. Roni Amid on Thursday so Denton could devote more time to business court matters.

Gibbons said he agreed to take the case because he knew there was little chance it would be appealed to the Supreme Court, where he would have to recuse himself.

The justices generally shy away from hearing lower court cases for the very reason that it could pose a conflict later, he said.

“If we did this more often, it could become an issue because we definitely couldn’t participate in any appeal,” he said.

At the end of the trial, Gibbons ruled that Amid had to pay Sound & Secure just under $10,000 for its work. The company wanted interest, as well.

But in the end, no one had any complaints about the way Gibbons handled the trial.

“I thought he was fantastic,” said Kyle Smith, another one of Sound & Secure’s lawyers. “For someone who had no real familiarity with the case before this week, he completely understood all of the legal issues.”

“He was more than fair,” Amid’s attorney, Jamie Cogburn, added, “especially considering he had some young attorneys in there.”

Jeff German is the Sun’s senior investigative reporter. He can be reached at 474-7406 or at [email protected]

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