The courtroom is a place where life-changing decisions are made, where decorum and dignity rule the day. But, of course, this is Las Vegas, where we do things with, ahem, flair—and going to court is no exception.
Curse Words & Foot Rubs
Usually, drama comes via defendants and witnesses, but the 2007 showdown between Judge Elizabeth Halverson and Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle was worthy of Dynasty—if Krystle was a veteran adjudicator who’d already caught the notice of The New York Times (for her personal life) and Alexis was a judicial upstart three times the size of Joan Collins. Halverson caught heat for harassing a bailiff (demanding foot rubs and massages, among other peccadilloes), “demeaning” staff and falling asleep on the bench. She took to rolling in with a pair of personal bodyguards who clashed with bailiffs and bypassed building security. As a result, she was banned from the courthouse by Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle, who had fired Halverson from her position as a law clerk several years earlier; Halverson also ran for a judgeship against Hardcastle’s husband and lost. Halverson was eventually banned from serving as a judge by the state Commission on Judicial Discipline and died in 2014. Hardcastle retired in 2012 after 15 years on the bench.
Hands Off, Officer!
Wondering what it’d look like if our president-elect writes “grab ’em by the pussy” into the legal code? A Las Vegas courtroom provided a preview back in 2011. At a routine child custody hearing, marshal Ron Fox asked a young mother to pull up her shirt and bra under the pretense of searching her for contraband. When she objected and claimed he had touched her inappropriately, another marshal arrested the sobbing woman for “filing a false report.” Hearing Master Patricia Doninger sat nearby, playing with the woman’s toddler, completely oblivious to the whole thing. The state eventually settled with the young mother for $200,000; Fox was fired after the incident, and the other marshal and Doninger followed him out the door soon afterward.
A Different Kind of Bar Association?
We’ve all come in to work a little ragged, but one Las Vegas lawyer took it to the next level. In 2006, Joseph Caramagno showed up in court more than an hour late to represent a client on a kidnapping charge. He slurred through a few versions of the car accident he blamed for his tardiness—the judge insisted Caramagno “did not look right,” but the lawyer declared he was “willing to play hurt.” The judge eventually ordered an in-court Breathalyzer (or as Caramagno called it, “an intoximeter”), which came back with a .075, just shy of the legal limit for impairment. Caramagno was sent home and a mistrial was declared.
The Juice Isn’t Loose
Las Vegas is a town where people push their luck—especially if they’re already on a winning streak. Which is why the man who walked away from “the Trial of the Century” with a shrug and a “not guilty” might figure that Sin City would nudge-and-wink at any hotel room contretemps. When O.J. faced charges including assault, kidnapping and armed robbery in connection with a dispute over some sports memorabilia, many expected a few weeks of camera fodder and a return to the craps table, not nine to 33 years at the Lovelock Correctional Center. It does make one hopeful that Nevada can do to the Bundys what Oregon didn’t …
Hard to Bear
In 2013, during a trial for accessory to murder, the victim’s mother appeared in court clutching a toy bear—a plush animal whose stomach was stuffed with the ashes of the deceased. She addressed the court in the voice of the victim’s 5-year-old sister while holding the bear urn, as the young defendant cried hysterically. Weird voices, unhinged sobbing, macabre-yet-adorable creatures: David Lynch is sorry he missed it.
It’s not unusual for attorneys and judges to clash; it is unusual for those conflicts to conclude with slapping on the cuffs. Last year, Las Vegas justice of the peace Conrad Hafen was hearing arguments from deputy public defender Zohra Bakhtary when he decided she’d said enough. When the lawyer attempted to continue, he had her handcuffed while he finished hearing the case. Bakhtary had appeared regularly before Hafen for several years without incident, but he decided this was the moment to teach her “a lesson” about “proper decorum.” Of course, the one who learned the most from the incident was Hafen: He lost the primary for his judicial seat a month later.
Court of Concussions
It’s not so much a matter of finding a Las Vegas courtroom brawl as choosing which one. During a 2006 divorce hearing, Geoffrey Wells mouthed off at the judge and wound up being restrained by four bailiffs (all of whom were later treated and released at UMC). Wells was familiar with the local court system—the previous year, he had faced charges when his 12-year-old son fatally shot himself with a shotgun that Wells had left accessible. Thanks to a plea bargain, Wells got probation, but the four battery charges while on said probation involved jail time.