Las Vegas Sun

March 24, 2019

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High court upholds judge’s firing

CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Supreme Court Thursday found that former Family Court Judge Fran Fine of Las Vegas was guilty of "willful misconduct" for holding improper meetings on court cases and engaging in nepotism.

The court, in a unanimous decision, upheld the ruling of the state Judicial Discipline Commission to remove her from office in 1998. She also was defeated in the election. But the disciplinary action means she will not be able to run for judicial office again.

The court said Fine violated the judicial canons by holding private conversations with psychologists and other experts in three child-custody cases without attorneys from both sides being present.

"Simply put, Judge Fine should have known better," the court wrote.

"Although Judge Fine continually argues that her ex parte contacts were arguably with 'court personnel' and were therefore not willful and not done in bad faith, we conclude that her argument is belied by the overwhelming evidence in this case and by the fact that she had already been disciplined for similar misconduct."

In 1995 Fine was sanctioned for talking to two fellow Family Court judges in an attempt to influence their decision on a case in which she had served as attorney for one of the parties.

The court upheld the finding of the discipline commission that Fine violated the canons by hiring her first cousin, Faith Garfield, to act as a mediator in one of the cases, without disclosing the relationship. And later she threatened to hold the parties in contempt of court for failing to pay Garfield.

Fine argued Garfield was appointed because she lived in New Mexico where the mother lived. She said she had seen her cousin only three or four times in 10 years. And Garfield did not receive any special treatment because of their relationship, Fine argued.

The court upheld the discipline commission, which found that Fine engaged in nepotism because "she bestowed patronage on Garfield based on their familial relationship."

The court also rejected Fine's argument that the punishment was too severe because she did not engage in willful misconduct.

But the court said, "As the record makes clear, Judge Fine engaged in numerous and repeated ex parte communications with experts retained by the parties or appointed by her.

"Based on the overwhelming nature of the evidence in this case and in light of Judge Fine's previous discipline for the same misconduct, we conclude that Judge Fine's actions show she knowingly acted in derogation to the judicial canons and, therefore, her actions amounted to willful misconduct."