Suspended LV judge costing extra time, money for others
August 15, 2008
The suspension of Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Halverson is costing the state thousands of dollars to cover hearings in her courtroom.
Senior judges have been assigned to handle her cases on a regular basis, but officials at the Administrative Office of the Courts say it isn’t possible to say specifically what that cost is. According to a court release issued Friday, the senior judges split their time between covering for Halverson and other duties. The court doesn’t specifically track how much time a senior judge spends in any specific courtroom.
“Since July 2007 when Judge Halverson was suspended, more than $180,000 has been paid to senior judges who have spent at least a portion of their time covering for her absence,” the report states.
But it adds that, since January, the drug court in southern Nevada has expanded from two days a week to four, also consuming a significant amount of time by senior judges. Court officials estimated only about a quarter of the $90,000 spent on senior judges since January was to cover for Halverson.
Halverson was suspended from the bench after complaints including that she fell asleep during more than one trial, forced staff to massage her feet and spoke to criminal juries outside the presence of the accused.
Justice Jim Hardesty, who will take over as chief justice in January, said covering for Halverson is costing the senior judge program a lot of money.
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“Obviously, it reduces the amount of resources we have available to direct toward other needs,” he said. “The needs are all over the state.”
He said the senior judges budget isn’t in financial distress at this point.
The program uses retired judges to fill in when the workload gets excessive in a given area or when a judge may have a conflict in handling a case.
“The senior judge money saves enormous financial resources to the counties and the state,” he said.
In addition to bringing in more senior judges, Hardesty said, the calendar in
Halverson’s department has been significantly reduced.
“Many of the cases have been shifted to other departments,” he said. “There would be added costs without having shifted some of those cases to other departments.”
Although Halverson has been on the bench for less than two years, she continues to receive her $130,000 a year salary as a judge. That will end in January when a new judge is sworn in since Halverson lost her re-election bid in the primary.
She was elected to a newly created judicial post in 2006, which means she and others in the same position had to run again this year for a full six-year term in office. She won only 9.7 percent of the primary vote on Tuesday, finishing a distant third against two challengers.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.