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September 2, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Dirty politics — in a race for justice of the peace

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

I recently railed against the election of judges as farcical.

The timing was perfect, as District Judge Steven Jones faces federal charges this week in an alleged investment scam.

An alert reader sent me another good example of how dumb judicial elections can be.

He received a dreaded “robocall,” one of those annoying recorded phone messages, that said the following:

“You should vote for Cynthia Dustin-Cruz instead of Bill Jansen for Las Vegas Justice Court.

"Why? Because Jansen is under investigation for improperly using taxpayer money to pay for his campaign telephone and email. He uses his secretary, a county employee paid by taxpayers, for his campaign. During his last campaign, Jansen paid his wife $18,000 from his campaign fund, even though he had no opponent. Jansen is not the right choice for justice of the peace.”

The reader was alarmed because he had never heard of Jansen being under investigation.

Neither had I. Jansen spent 24 years in the FBI and is past president of the county bar association.

In fact, Dustin-Cruz filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Discipline, which of course is obligated to follow up, as noted in a letter to Dustin-Cruz. This is the basis for the flimsy allegation that Jansen is “under investigation.”

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson claiming his opponent had intercourse with pigs just so he could get the opponent on the record denying it.

(I called Dustin-Cruz, but she hadn’t replied as of my deadline.)

Don Campbell, a former federal prosecutor whose time with the government overlapped with Jansen's FBI career, said Jansen is "one of the most honorable guys I know," and a "highly respected FBI agent known for his integrity."

Campbell once sat on the Commission on Judicial Discipline, and he called the assertion that Jansen is under investigation "highly misleading."

"They send out a pro forma letter saying they'll conduct a review. That doesn't mean you're 'under investigation,'" Campbell said.

As for the allegations themselves, when Jansen filed for office at the county, he listed his office phone and his assistant’s email as contact information. Not smart, but hardly evidence of judicial misconduct. He’s since moved all campaign activities to a personal cellphone and email, and his assistant does campaign work for him, but only after hours and on weekends, he told me.

And, yes, his wife received money from his last campaign, but that’s because she’s always been his campaign manager. This is not ideal but not uncommon — Gary Gray has always run the campaigns of his wife, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani. And even though it might not seem like it, a campaign without an opponent is still a campaign and requires some work.

But we’re getting deep in the weeds here. Back to the original point about electing judges. I find it highly doubtful that Jansen is unethically using his office for re-election activities. But if true, it’s the direct result of him having to run for re-election. No re-election, no need to electioneer from the office.

And if it’s not true, as seems likely, then Dustin-Cruz is sullying the good name of a judge.

So if Jansen wins re-election, we wind up with a judge whose reputation has been sullied. If Dustin-Cruz wins, we have a judge who has no problem trashing someone’s reputation to get a seat on the bench.

Do we want someone who so blithely throws unsubstantiated allegations around sitting in judgment of our fellow citizens?

It's hardly a sound foundation for our judicial system.

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