By Jerry Carter. Campaign contributions are a fact of life in a state like Nevada in which judges are elected. A July 24, 2012 Order reminds us that a judge’s prior acceptance of campaign contributions from affiliates of a current party appearing in his or her court, without more, does not void an order entered by the judge.
In November 2011, the Business Court entered a preliminary injunction requiring a defendant to immediately return proprietary documents, including laboratory notebooks, computers, research notes and documentation, emails, and other material allegedly belonging to the plaintiff. The defendant did not comply with the November 2011 preliminary injunction. As a result, the Business Court entered a January 2012 Order: (1) granting a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff, as a sanction for the defendant’s repeated failure to comply with Court orders; (2) granting a permanent injunction in favor of the plaintiff; and (3) scheduling a prove-up hearing regarding the amount of the plaintiff’s damages.
However, in March 2012, the Presiding Judge recused himself from the case. Subsequently, the defendant asked the Judge to whom the case was reassigned to vacate the January 2012 Order granting the default judgment. The defendant contended that the reason for the recusal was the prior Judge’s acceptance of campaign contributions from individuals and an entity affiliated with the plaintiff. The defendant contended that the receipt of those contributions, which was not brought to light until March 2012, “tainted” the prior decisions in the case.
The new Judge rejected the motion to vacate. The Court concluded that there was no evidence that the prior Judge displayed actual bias or prejudice against any party as a result of the campaign contributions. Rather, the prior Judge recused himself to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Thus, the March 2012 Order granting default judgment was left in place.