Nevada Judge Steps Aside Again in Light of Campaign Contributions

Nevada District Judge Brent Adams has recused himself from a case for the second time after concerns that campaign money he received from one of the parties created an “appearance of impropriety.” The case involves the AMERCO corporation, and Adams previously recused himself from another concerning the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease. Adams took $10,400 from Harvey Whittemore and associates during his 2008 campaign, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

Judge Jerry Polaha will replace Adams on the case, but critics have called for Polaha to step down because he also received campaign funds from Whittemore. Washoe District Court Chief Judge David Hardy said he is “very concerned” about these recent public links between judges and campaign money, leading to recusals.

“We elect our judges in Nevada,” Hardy said. “Campaign contributions are an important part of the electoral process. The Nevada Supreme Court has held, and the Code of Judicial Conduct confirms, that the mere receipt of a campaign contribution is not a disqualifying event.”

According to the article, a San Francisco lawyer representing clients in the AMERCO lawsuit read about Adams’ previous recusal, and filed a motion asking the judge to recuse himself from their case. Lawyer Chris Heffelfinger said Adams accepted almost $36,000 from a list of people and companies involved in the AMERCO case, and has overseen the case since it was first filed in 2002.

Heffelfinger has said that “in order to promote public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, judges in the State of Nevada are required to not only avoid impropriety but the mere appearance of impropriety. Disqualification of the Honorable Brent Adams from hearing further matters in this case is necessary to avoid such an improper appearance.”

Not everyone involved is as critical of Judge Adams. Cal Dunlap, a Reno lawyer, has said Adams is “beyond reproach,” and does not believe Adams has been influenced by money. Dunlap called Adams “the most highly respected jurist on the bench.”

In his motion, Heffelfinger has said that Adams consistently ruled in favor of those who contributed to his campaign, and ruled against the parties who did not give him large sums of money.

13.38 percent of the $268,975 that Adams received in the 2008 election came from AMERCO and its subsidiary U-Haul International. In the Whittemore case, he received 3.7 percent of his total campaign contributions from involved parties. However, Heffelfinger said that his recusal from a case involving a smaller sum shows that “such contributions by a party to this litigation create a sufficient appearance of impropriety to necessitate Judge Adams’ disqualification from further hearings in this case.”

Heffelfinger stated that Adams should step down to “preserve the public’s faith in an impartial judiciary.” He added that he was happy with Judge Adams’ decision.

To see Justice at Stake’s position on recusal, click here. ┬áTo read more about the issue of recusal in other states, see Gavel Grab.