While Judge Elizabeth Halverson's current troubles are being blamed on her hiring of security guards, It's no secret at the courthouse that there have been questions about other Halverson decisions. In one case, she spoke to jurors during their deliberations without attorneys present.
The Eyewitness News I-Team has been looking into the requirements to become a judge and found there aren't many which might explain some of Halverson's mis-steps.
In most cases, judges are elected in Nevada so they must campaign like other politicians. There are few requirements and none include trial court experience.
With decades of experience as a public defender, civil case lawyer and district attorney, Douglas Smith has the experience you would expect of a chief judge.
"Any experience that you can get before you become a district court judge is important," said Chief Judge Douglas Smith, Las Vegas Justice Court. Smith has experience arguing cases before a judge and jury. Some judges don't have that experience.
To become a municipal court judge for the city of Las Vegas you must be a licensed attorney in good standing with the state bar. You can not have been removed from a judicial position and you must live in Las Vegas for at least 30 days before the filing deadline and be elected into the position by registered voters and agree to do the job as a judge on a full time basis.
To become a district court judge for Southern Nevada, a licensed attorney must be at least 25 years old and have practiced law for at least 10 years, two of those years in Nevada. The judicial candidate must also have lived in Nevada for two years leading up to the election. Also, the candidate must have lived in the district for at least 30 days leading up to the filing deadline. In addition, the candidate must never have been removed from a judicial office.
Nothing requires an attorney have trial experience before becoming a judge. "I don't know that you want to put too many many stringent requirements for running for judge or you eliminate a lot of good people," Smith said.
Some Clark County judges, including the embattled Judge Elizabeth Halverson, never tried a case before voters elected them to the bench.
"You have to look at each individual person. They may have enough life experiences that compensate for not having jury trials. I think personally I would want a judge that knows the layout of the court room. I would want a judge that has that experience," Smith said.
Judge Smith says years ago all a judicial candidate had to do was pass the state bar. He says it is more difficult for judges without trial court experience to ease into their newfound power in the courtroom.
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