Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Those working in the justice system often quip that “Law & Order” doesn’t prepare the general public for what it’s really like in a courtroom.
The joke isn’t usually intended to refer to courtroom décor.
But go to courtroom A on the 15th floor of the Clark County Regional Justice Center. On the bench is District Judge Kathleen Delaney, clad in a kelly green robe.
On giant canvases around the courtroom are photos of basset hounds — their ears floppy, their eyes droopy, their legs short and bodies long — professionally posed.
It’s a little-known fact that Clark County judges are allowed to decorate their courtrooms and choose the color of their robe. Judge Mark Denton’s courtroom has photos of the Hoover Dam. When Jackie Glass was on the bench, she wore a blue robe.
Delaney appears to get more grief for her dogs and bright attire than other judges who have decided to mix things up in their courtroom.
“Is there a difference?” Delaney asked, comparing her basset hounds to the Hoover Dam photos. “I don’t know that’s up to the beholder to decide.”
Some people think the dogs are goofy and silly. Delaney doesn’t see it that way. The dogs are a symbol of a serious issue in Las Vegas and elsewhere — animal overpopulation. Delaney is president of Las Vegas Basset Rescue, and all of the basset hounds gracing her courtroom were rescued.
“This isn’t me trying to say, 'Look, I like basset hounds,'” she said. As for the robe, she chose green as a tribute to her father, because Delaney thought he would have really enjoyed it, and to honor their Irish heritage.
When Delaney's docket was devoted only to civil cases, people didn’t seem to care about her robe and courtroom decorations. The snide comments and questions didn’t arise until she started hearing criminal cases, she said.
Weighty criminal actions — such as the one against Ammar Harris, who is accused of killing three people in a shooting and fiery crash in February on the Las Vegas Strip — go through Delaney’s courtroom. But Delaney doesn’t differentiate between civil and criminal litigation. Civil cases are serious and also deal with people who have experienced great trauma, she said. And civil cases can stem from heinous criminal cases.
While attorneys are hesitant to go on the record about hound pictures, Delaney’s courtroom décor has been criticized in anonymous comments on the Las Vegas law blog.
“Her office is in chambers — she can decorate that all day long. The courtroom is a public space which is supposed to have a certain degree of decorum,” wrote one commenter.
Delaney, though, isn’t worried proceedings in her court will go to the dogs.
“I think people tend to forget that it’s there when the serious business is going on,” she said. “I think what matters is the seriousness of whatever is going on in the courtroom.”
Delaney says she always explains the robe and basset hounds to juries so they won’t be a distraction.
Some in the legal community have snickered at the photos, asking who has a sadder expression — the defendants who appear in the courtroom or the dogs who decorate it.
“I don’t know.” Delaney, said. “Do they look sad?”
Delaney suspects most of the naysayers don’t know the charitable organization behind the canvases.
For Delaney, it’s a way to showcase the rescue program and something she loves.
“It makes me happy,” Delaney said. “I assume everyone in court would want to have a happy judge.”