KNOW YOUR JUDGE: A GUIDE TO CLARK COUNTY FAMILY COURT JUDGES
More so than in other courts, decisions rendered by judges in family court are highly discretionary. Judges are human and fallible. Their personal biases, philosophies, and life experiences influence and inform their rulings and “tip the scales” in their decision making. That’s why the lawyers at Pecos Law Group believe that knowing your judge is almost as important as knowing the law.
The judge is the most important factor in your case and you have little control over which judge your case will be assigned. There are 20 full time family court judges. Approximately 16 of these judges hear divorce cases. When you file your complaint for divorce your case will be randomly assigned to one of these 16 judges. Until your divorce case has been assigned to one of these judges, it’s unlikely you have ever heard of the judge or know anything about the judge.
The only real tool one has available to learn about judges is the “Judging the Judges” survey the Las Vegas Review Journal conducts. What these surveys can provide you, however, is limited. Generally, most of the judges of received the “benefit of the doubt” during their “honeymoon” period and enjoy a good rating their first year. Often, not many attorneys have appeared before a new judge and there has not been sufficient time to determine how good the judge will be. Most family court judges receive lower scores with each survey, although occasionally a judge may improve. Moreover, some judges who are considered tough, no nonsense and lack patience will often receive lower scores because they are not liked. Many judges are perempted for personality reasons as much as their abilities. There is also a relatively low number of attorneys who participate and a block of several attorneys can swing results by several percentage points.
What is a peremptory challenge? Each party is entitled to one peremptory challenge. What that means is for a $450.00 fee and a prompt notice, you can “get rid” of a particular judge for any reason and get randomly assigned to a new family court judge. There are various reasons why an attorney may advise you to exercise your peremptory challenge. Your attorney may have a personality conflict with the judge, or the judge may have a predisposition on a certain issue that has particular importance in your case. Peremptory challenges should be used for strategic purposes and the fee should not be a deterrence.
Before deciding whether or not to use your peremptory challenge, it’s important to identify the contested issues in your case and learn about the judge that your case has been assigned. Every judge is different. Some are more predictable than others. Should you retain our office to represent you in your family law matter, we will provide additional insights into your judge.
If you have a case pending in the Clark County family courts, click on the applicable link below to find out more about the jurist who will be making decisions regarding your life.
Judge William Voy, Department A
Judge Voy is current serving in the juvenile division and does not hear divorce cases.
Judge Gloria Sanchez, Department B
Judge Sanchez has been a family court judge since the inception of the Clark County Family Court in 1993. She was a domestic relations referee for more than four years before becoming a judge and is the most experienced family court judge on the bench.
Judge Sanchez is one of the more patient judges. She usually gives attorneys and pro se litigants sufficient time to say whatever they want. Judge Sanchez has a pleasant demeanor and has the second highest average retention score since 2006.
Judge Sanchez can sometimes be slow and it can take longer to finalize a contested case than in some of the other departments, but overall, you will get a fair hearing.
Judge Steven E. Jones, Department C
Aside from Judge Sanchez, Judge Jones is the most experienced family court judge on the bench. Judge Jones is currently assigned to the juvenile court and does not hear divorce cases. Judge Jones grated from California Western School of Law in 1984 and admitted to practice law in Nevada that same year. Judge Jones served as the law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thomas L. Steffen from 1984 to 1985 before going into private practice. He was a domestic relations referee from 1992 until being elected to serve his first term on family court in 1993.
Judge Robert W. “Bob” Teuton, DepartmentD
Judge Teuton was an attorney with the Clark County Juvenile court for approximately 20 years before being appointed by the governor to the family court in 2008. Judge Teuton is patient and deliberate. Judge Teuton’s background, however, is in juvenile court, not family court.
Judge Charles J. Hoskin, Department E
Judge Hoskin is highly regarded and his retention score increased from 87% in 2010 to 91% in 2012. Judge Hoskin is prompt, prepared, thorough and win or lose, you will generally feel like you received a fair hearing. In the first four months of 2012 Judge Hoskin was not perempted once.
Judge T. Arthur Ritchie, Jr., Department H
Judge Ritchie was appointed to the family court by the governor in 1999 and has been retained three times since. Judge Ritchie is consistently one of the highest rated family court judges in the Las Vegas Review Journal “Judging the Judges” survey. Judge Ritchie served as the presiding judge of the family division from 2006 -2008 and then served as chief judge over the entire Eighth Judicial District. Judge Ritchie is highly respected by the bar and is one of the few judges who actually follows most procedural rules.
Judge Cheryl B. Moss, Department I
Judge Moss was first elected to the family court in 2000 and has been reelected three times since. Since 2006, Judge Moss has received the lowest average score for retention amongst all current judges and is one of the most perempted family court judges.
Judge Jennifer Elliott, Department L
Prior to being elected to the family court in 2002, Judge Elliott was a licensed marriage and family therapist In Nevada. She graduated from UNLV in 1998 with a Master’s of Science in Counseling. She served as an arbitrator and as a supreme court settlement judge. She Elliott is best suited for complicated custody issues.
Judge William Potter, Department M
Judge Potter has been criticized for a casual and sometimes inconsistent judicial demeanor. Judge Potter, however, is underrated as a judge and usually makes the right decision.
Judge Matthew P. Harter, Department N
Judge Harter has served on the family court since January of 2009. Prior to being in private practice from 1995-2008, Judge Harter was the law clerk for family court Judge Gerald W. Hardcastle. Judge Harter graudat3ed from UNLV in 1988 with a BA in Business Administration.
Judge Harter is one of the newer family court judges. For a new judge, however, he is decisive. For better or worse, this is preferable to many new judges who lack the confidence to make actual orders. Judge Harter doesn’t always get it right in our opinion, but he is prepared and is not afraid to make real decisions.
Judge Sandra Pomrenze, Department P
Judge Pomrenze’s retention score has decreased from 63% in 2006 to 54% in 2012. Some of this may be attributed to some controversial decision, but much may also be attributed to her demeanor and enforcement of the rules. Judge Pomrenze’s high peremption rate is likely more due to her demeanor than her decisions.
Judge Bryce C. Duckworth, Department Q
Judge Duckworth is one of the newer judges, but was respected as a family law attorney and is highly regarded as a judge. In the last judicial survey he had a 94% retention score. Judge Duckworth is an excellent judge for any complex family law case and has an excellent demeanor.
Judge Bill Henderson, Department R
Judge Henderson has surprised many lawyers and has turned out to be a good judge. He is prepared, has a good demeanor and is not afraid to make difficult decisions.
Judge Vincent Ochoa, Department S
Judge Ochoa is one of the newest judges and it is still too early to provide a reasonable assessment of his performance.
Judge Gayle Nathan, Department T
Judge Nathan is also one of the newest judges and it is also too early to provide a reasonable assessment of her performance. For reasons not complete clear, however, Judge Nathan’s peremption rate from January through April is significant higher than any other judge.