The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline issued an interim order today (July 25) suspending Judge Elizabeth Halverson pending a final determination in the disciplinary proceeding against her. The order means that after reviewing evidence and holding a hearing, the Commission has concluded that Judge Halverson "poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice." More specifically, it found substantial evidence to believe that she:
- is "without sufficient legal abilities to conduct trials in criminal cases without threat of serious harm to the public or the administration of justice;"
- "has not treated staff and litigants with patience, dignity or courtesy," and created a hostile work environment for her staff;
- failed to diligently perform her duties "by falling asleep on at least one occasion and possibly more while on the bench during a jury trial;" and
- failed to cooperate with other judges and court administrators.
If you've been following this story -- and it's gotten enough attention outside of Nevada to have shown up in the ABA Journal -- this will not come as any surprise to you at all. The order, which was posted today and which you can find here, is 26 pages of goodness about Judge Halverson's badness.
First, the suspicion that the judge doesn't have the ability to conduct a trial stems in part from incidents in which she met with juries when the lawyers were not present, including during deliberations, and at least once "decided to dine with the jurors in the courtroom during the course of the trial -- an event unheard of as far as the commissioners participating in this case are aware." The Commission also noted that Halverson was removed from cases by one or both parties (exercising a "peremptory challenge" to get another judge) about twice as often overall as all other judges combined.
Second, the Commission found credible the testimony of Johnny Jordan, who was Halverson's bailiff, at least for a while. He seems to have understood at the outset that he would have to help her with her shoes, for reasons apparent from this picture. But she also made him, among other things:
- maintain the correct ice/water ratio in her glass at all times;
- make her lunch every day;
- cover her with a blanket when she was resting (in chambers and not on the bench, I guess);
- pick things up after she threw them on the floor; and
- work 12-hour days even when trial was not in session.
There was also some touching and inappropriate commenting, but you get the picture. Also testifying was Ileen Spoor, a staff member who said she was mistreated, and also said that Halverson would put people under oath and make them answer her own personal questions. This included Halverson's husband (who by the way is a convicted felon), who was sworn in to answer certain questions about their marital relationship that weren't specified and which I don't even want to think about.
Witnesses testified that Halverson had indeed snoozed on the bench, the best detail about this being that poor Johnny Jordan had to try to wake her up without also pissing her off, which he would try to do by slamming a door. (It didn't work.) The Commission concluded here that "sleeping in court, whether there is a jury present or not, is not appropriate behavior for any judge." Seems fair.
Finally, Halverson did not "cooperate." She did not cooperate to the extent that after she no longer had a bailiff, she showed up with her own private armed bodyguards without telling the courthouse staff in advance. This caused concern (and got her barred from the courthouse temporarily earlier this year).
The upshot is that Halverson is now suspended, and the state supreme court immediately unsealed the Commission's order (which does not bode well for the future of her judgeship, probably). Those of you who are not required to maintain the correct ice/water ratio in anyone's glass might want to read it, and feel better about your current work situation.