Your Judge and Your Case

By Travis Clark, Esq.

Judges are people.  No kidding.  However, sometimes it is easy to forget that when we are in the throes of a divorce or custody battle.  It is easy to chremamorph (attribute the qualities of an inanimate object to a human) a Judge. “The Judge is an automaton!”   It is easy to believe “they have it so good” and “they do not know what I am going through.”  Nevertheless, and as hard to believe as it may be, Judges have lives like you and I, they have gone through divorce, custody battles and paid alimony.  They know all too well what the parties feel when we enter their courtroom.

Knowing your Judge, their judicial philosophies, their work history and any bias they may exhibit, is integral to your case.  A Judge sitting in Department 35, might have a different take on alimony than the Judge sitting in Department 19.  Being prepared for your Judge and their legal analysis in your matter can change the outcome.

Now, while it would make every attorney’s day if we were able to choose the Department and Judge we wanted, we cannot.  The ability to choose your jurisdiction, court, department and judge is not permitted.  It is called “Forum Shopping.”  The idea of forum shopping is that a litigant could stack the deck in his or her favor by getting the right Judge and venue.

Every lawyer is trained in law school that the law attempts to “even the playing field” with respect to litigants.  If a plaintiff were able to stack the cards in their favor, then incentive would be created for folks to race to the courthouse to file a complaint or petition for a family matter.  Since we want to discourage, rather than encourage litigation, legislatures enact laws the prevent forum shopping and judges enforce laws to prevent the same.

There is a very narrow field of exceptions to this rule.  The first exception is what is commonly referred to as your “right to preemption.”  Once a litigant is assigned to a department, the party has a limited amount of time to lodge a request to preempt the Judge or Department they were assigned to.  In Washoe County, there is a cost to this.  It is currently $450 to preempt the Judge that you were assigned to.  However, if you find yourself in a Judge’s department that you know will be bad for your case, preemption may be your remedy, to “re-roll the dice.”  To be clear, you do not get to choose your next Judge and Court, only that you get one right to say: “Not this Department.”

So where does this leave us?  How do we learn the idiosyncrasies of the Judge we were assigned?  Unfortunately, there is no substitute for experience.  Those experienced in the law are able to provide legal advice on the nuances of a particular Judge and Court.  While some areas of law do not require attorney representation, Family law is replete with pitfalls for the unknowing or unwary.

Kimberly Surratt served for eight years on the executive council and has been the vice chair and then chair of the State Bar of Nevada Family Law Section. In addition, she is the President-Elect of the Nevada Justice Association and the chair of the domestic lobbying committee. She has lobbied with the Nevada Justice Association since 2004.

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