Judge not

Elections are exploitive, demeaning events for everyone involved. It would be great if they were based on criteria like who’s the most qualified, who’s the most experienced, or who’s got the most creative ideas for improvement. But they’re not.

Instead, often, they’re based on who can spread slanderous lies most effectively, who can make the most conflicting promises to the most parties without getting caught, or who can raise the most money.

Elections are the things most right and most wrong about democracy. The voice of the people, the majority of the people, is our guiding principle, a beautiful, glorious idea. But money undermines it by creating imbalance, giving the wealthy more voice than the average person. It’s that whole wealth disparity thing where 1 percent of the population has 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Nowhere is this demeaning, income-disparity election dilemma more evident than in races for judicial positions. And locals are hanging on the details of a perfect example of this, the Harvey Whittemore/Seeno brothers scandal.

Harvey Whittemore was and probably will be again, a phenom in this state—an intelligent, aggressive, wealth- and power-seeking machine. He had his tentacles in more pies than Jason Biggs. He became rich through making money and political connections.

And he spread his wealth around. Mainstream politicians like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas; and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., all got a piece of the pie. So did politicians in California. The money may have spread from coast to coast.

That’s how the game of influence is played. Simple as that. You give money to politicians you might want to talk to at a later date, like if you have or represent casinos or housing developments you’re trying to develop. If they know you, they’ll be friendlier to you.

It’s an exaggeration to say Whittemore gave money to everyone, but the perception is there.

Whittemore also gave money to judges, as Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Martha Bellisle pointed out on March 22, like Washoe District Judge Jerry Polaha and Washoe District Judge Brent Adams. Both these judges have sat on cases regarding Whittemore. Adams has removed himself from such a case and Polaha is considering doing so.

So the question becomes, which judge at the district level has not received money from the guy who gave money to everyone? Hold the thought for a second: Doesn’t the fact that somebody didn’t receive money perhaps suggest a different bias?

Nevada has to pull our judges out of the greasy mire where they have to glad-hand lawyers who they may have to rule for or against. Nevada should create a public funding system that will allow our judges to rule without perceived prejudice.

It’s bad enough that some people run for public office because it’s a better salary than they make elsewhere. Judges in this community are by and large lawyers who had successful private practices. Most run for these positions out of sincere desire to contribute to society. It’s a little gross to rub their noses in down and dirty politics and then expect them to come up smelling like roses.