Even though in a city that prides itself on “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Elizabeth Halverson has achieved national infamy for conduct as a judge that allegedly ranges from having a bailiff rub her back to sleeping in the courthouse to making her husband swear under oath that he has done the chores at home. Now the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission is starting a week of hearings to remove her from the bench.
I have spoken to Nevada judges and lawyers who tell stories about Halverson, 50, in disbelief that she ever made it to the bench. She certainly cuts a notable figure. Obese and propelled on a motorized scooter, she had surrounded herself with private guards and has been seen sleeping in court.
She has been suspended from work on the bench but doggedly holds on to the job.
Halverson vehemently denies the allegations. However, while some statements to a bailiff like “do you want to worship me from afar?” sound like jokes, other actions are harder to explain like calling 911 when court administrators tried to get into her office and falling asleep in court.
She has been accused of creating a hostile work environment, misusing her authority, hiring a hacker to penetrate the court computer system, causing mistrials by meeting with jurors and other acts that led the commission to declare that she posed “a substantial threat to the public or to the administration of justice.”
Nevertheless, to be fair to Halverson, some attorneys have defended her and Jeffrey Stempel, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has suggested that these acts are not sufficient for removal: “Judicial removal should generally be reserved for corruption and complete incompetence or inability to do the job. One question you have to ask is, `Is this judge so bad we have to remove her before the voters have a chance to do so?'” Professor Stempel has a good point and, to his credit, is not following the mob. However, it seems to me that some of this conduct does indeed cross the line, particularly the use of court personnel and hiring of the hacker. However, it is certainly true that past cases of strange behavior (assuming the hacker charge fails) would be handled with a reprimand rather than a removal — particularly given her elected status.
For her part, Halverston is seeking reelection and has offered a report from her therapist who diagnosed her with an adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression. She also submitted a report from her medical doctor that she is a diabetic, requires the wheelchair because of arthritis, and needs an oxygen tank to counteract the effects of sleep apnea. He notes that the sleeping in court may have been the result of a drop in blood sugar.
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