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September 20, 2014

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Dirty politics — in a race for justice of the peace

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

I recently railed against the election of judges as farcical.

The timing was perfect, as District Judge Steven Jones faces federal charges this week in an alleged investment scam.

An alert reader sent me another good example of how dumb judicial elections can be.

He received a dreaded “robocall,” one of those annoying recorded phone messages, that said the following:

“You should vote for Cynthia Dustin-Cruz instead of Bill Jansen for Las Vegas Justice Court.

"Why? Because Jansen is under investigation for improperly using taxpayer money to pay for his campaign telephone and email. He uses his secretary, a county employee paid by taxpayers, for his campaign. During his last campaign, Jansen paid his wife $18,000 from his campaign fund, even though he had no opponent. Jansen is not the right choice for justice of the peace.”

The reader was alarmed because he had never heard of Jansen being under investigation.

Neither had I. Jansen spent 24 years in the FBI and is past president of the county bar association.

In fact, Dustin-Cruz filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Discipline, which of course is obligated to follow up, as noted in a letter to Dustin-Cruz. This is the basis for the flimsy allegation that Jansen is “under investigation.”

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson claiming his opponent had intercourse with pigs just so he could get the opponent on the record denying it.

(I called Dustin-Cruz, but she hadn’t replied as of my deadline.)

Don Campbell, a former federal prosecutor whose time with the government overlapped with Jansen's FBI career, said Jansen is "one of the most honorable guys I know," and a "highly respected FBI agent known for his integrity."

Campbell once sat on the Commission on Judicial Discipline, and he called the assertion that Jansen is under investigation "highly misleading."

"They send out a pro forma letter saying they'll conduct a review. That doesn't mean you're 'under investigation,'" Campbell said.

As for the allegations themselves, when Jansen filed for office at the county, he listed his office phone and his assistant’s email as contact information. Not smart, but hardly evidence of judicial misconduct. He’s since moved all campaign activities to a personal cellphone and email, and his assistant does campaign work for him, but only after hours and on weekends, he told me.

And, yes, his wife received money from his last campaign, but that’s because she’s always been his campaign manager. This is not ideal but not uncommon — Gary Gray has always run the campaigns of his wife, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani. And even though it might not seem like it, a campaign without an opponent is still a campaign and requires some work.

But we’re getting deep in the weeds here. Back to the original point about electing judges. I find it highly doubtful that Jansen is unethically using his office for re-election activities. But if true, it’s the direct result of him having to run for re-election. No re-election, no need to electioneer from the office.

And if it’s not true, as seems likely, then Dustin-Cruz is sullying the good name of a judge.

So if Jansen wins re-election, we wind up with a judge whose reputation has been sullied. If Dustin-Cruz wins, we have a judge who has no problem trashing someone’s reputation to get a seat on the bench.

Do we want someone who so blithely throws unsubstantiated allegations around sitting in judgment of our fellow citizens?

It's hardly a sound foundation for our judicial system.

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  1. Hey I agree with JPC. We must APPOINT judges and justices. We must have a means of vetting them to ensure education, experience, ETHICS, reasonableness, proven success and ELIMINATE the detritus that we've been getting via elections. And as a by-product, we'd get fewer campaigns, fund raising, commercials....

  2. I like Judge Jensen. He is a good guy. Honest man who may have certain political inclinations but he is fair and up front.

    As for this article, I thought I was reading a "news story" but it looks more like an endorsement.

    Nonetheless, Jensen is a good guy.

  3. Jansen*

    Not enough sleep!

  4. The problem is electing judges is bad, but appointing them is worse. The typical citizen already has so little voice in the system. Appointing judges will give them less.

    Second just like Dustin Cruz'z ad, Coolican oversimplifies the situation in saying the choice is between a judge with sullied repution or one that is willing to trash someones reputation.

  5. "Do we want someone who so blithely throws unsubstantiated allegations around sitting in judgment of our fellow citizens? It's hardly a sound foundation for our judicial system."

    Coolican -- welcome to our "just us" system. Until judicial discipline and accountability is ripped away from bench and bar, nothing will change. What other part of government is trusted with policing itself and doing it largely in secret?

    What was that about a man with a briefcase able to steal more than a man with a gun?

    "The legal system has also been wounded by lawyers who themselves no longer respect the rule of law ..... When lawyers cannot be trusted to observe the fair processes essential to maintaining the rule of law, how can we expect the public to respect the process?" -- the Honorable Edith Jones to Harvard's Federalist Club "American Legal System Is Corrupt Beyond Recognition, Judge Tells Harvard Law School" 2/28/03

  6. Judge Jensen seems like a good guy, but in Vegas usually where there is smoke there is fire, so I;ll vote Cruz.