Alleged Judicial Bias in the Nevada Family Courts

One of the biggest superstars in the poker world is caught up in a divorce case where there’s an allegation of judicial bias. Phil Ivey and his former wife Luciaetta were officially divorced in late 2009, but it’s poker superstar Ivey’s subsequent donations to Nevada family court judge Bill Gonzalez judicial campaign that are now at issue. The question is should Judge Gonzalez have recused himself from the case when Mr. Ivey and his legal teams made generous contributions to his campaign on the heels of a favorable divorce settlement?

This case revives concerns about potential conflicts of interest created when judicial candidates collect campaign contributions from those who appear before them. University of Nevada, Las Vegas law professor Jeff Stempel reviewed Mrs. Ivey’s petition and said he thinks a new judge should be assigned to the divorce case “to ensure public confidence.” Mrs. Ivey’s attorney Bruce Shapiro said,

“The donations occurred after an uncontested divorce decree was entered but before the six-month mark after which Luciaetta could no longer bring a motion pursuant to NRCP 60(b) to have the decree set aside based upon a mistake, newly discovered evidence or fraud. Certainly, given the strange circumstances of the divorce which included Phil and/or his counsel choosing Luciaetta’s attorney, the marital settlement agreement failing to disclose the values of Phil’s assets, and there being no appraisals of the parties’ substantial property, it is conceivable that Phil realized that Luciaetta might try to have the decree overturned. Likewise, it is certainly conceivable that Phil wanted to curry favor with Judge Gonzalez if Luciaetta ever tried [to do so].”

Judge Gonzalez steadfastly maintains that he is “capable of rendering judgment in this matter in a fair and just manner.”

So what do you think about this matter? Should the judge step aside in this case? Perhaps the larger question is should judges be elected and thus forced to raise funds to mount successful campaigns?

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