Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline
P.O. Box 48
Carson City, NV 89702
Re: Judge Bryce Duckworth
We are writing to ask that you investigate Judge Bryce Duckworth in connection with a hearing we had before him on August 30, 2017 in the Ansell v. Ansell divorce case, Eighth Judicial District Court case no. D-15-521960-D. A copy of the video of the hearing is attached as Exhibit 1.
We believe that Judge Duckworth violated at least the following Rules of the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”): Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Preamble requiring a judge to maintain the dignity of the office and avoid the impropriety; Rule 1.1 requiring the judge to comply with the law, including the Code; Rule 1.2 for failure to promote confidence in the judiciary; Rule 1.3 for using the prestige of his judicial office and the judicial process of other parties to advance his personal and economic interests; Rule 2.1 requiring the judge to give precedence to the duties of judicial office; Rule 2.2 requiring impartiality, open-mindedness and fairness; Rule 2.5 for failing to give due regard for a party to be heard; Rule 2.9 requiring the judge not to collude with one of the parties; Rule 2.10 requiring the judge not to make statements on pending and impending cases; and Rule 2.12 for failing to control staff from colluding with a party.
As you are aware, Veterans In Politics International, Inc. (“VIPI”) is a government watchdog organization and media outlet. VIPI and I were recently dragged into the Ansell divorce case by the family court lawyer, Marshal Willick, who is personally suing me and VIPI for defamation in connection with articles we published about him and his fiance’s (Jennifer Abrams, also a family court lawyer) improper professional tactics. Mr. Willick is representing the wife in the Ansell divorce case.
Until the August 30, 2017 hearing, the judge in the divorce case was Bryce Duckworth, one of the family court judges against whom we recently complained in an open letter to the Presiding Judge of District Court, each of the Supreme Court justices, and to the public corruption directors of law enforcement as part of VIPI’s “war” on Family Court corruption. A copy of the letter is attached as Exhibit 2.
In the Ansell divorce case, VIPI and I had filed motions to quash the subpoenas that were served on us by Willick. Instead of having the motions referred to a Discovery Commissioner as provided by Eighth Judicial District Court Rule 2.34, Judge Duckworth decided to hear the motions himself. As discussed below, he improperly ordered me into court under false pretenses, turned the hearing into an evidentiary hearing with no notice, questioned me on issues that he admitted he had a conflict on with, stifled my counsels objections and launched into an unsupported implausible rant accusing VIPI of corruption and generally attacked our organization and investigations. At the end of the hearing, he recused himself for conflicts of interest, claiming that it was because he may be called as a witness if there is a corruption investigation against us, when in actuality, he was recusing himself because he had a conflict of interest between one of his staff members and the husband in the divorce case.
It was clear to us that the whole hearing was a set-up for him to launch into a self-serving tirade to discredit us and our investigation of him, and to try to paint himself as a hyper ethical judge to deflect from his own improper behavior. The coup de gras is that the judge or someone in his office then leaked the video of the hearing to Willick hours or a day before the Court Clerk could make it available to the public and before the Court Clerk could officially unseal the case. (The case was unsealed pursuant to VIPI’s request at the hearing.) It is clear to us that the video was leaked to Willick with the specific intent that it be distributed online to discredit our organization and our complaints against Judge Duckworth and other family court judges and practices.
We also believe that this event makes probable that the judge and Willick have either directly or indirectly had ex parte communications regarding this case and/or this hearing.
Video: 1 of 2
- COLLUSION WITH A PARTY.
The video of the August 30, 2017 hearing was secretly leaked to Willick (or his followers) at least several hours, if not a day, before the Court Clerk made the video available to the public. VIPI requested a copy of the video immediately after the hearing, and as usual, was advised that it would be available the next afternoon. Yet, Willick and his followers posted the hearing video online by 10:30am the next morning. Moreover, while the official video was in two parts, the one Willick or his followers posted online was in one part, indicating it was either an original master or was obtained in sufficient time to edit together before its 10:30 am release. The Court Clerk also confirmed that VIPI was the only entity that officially requested a copy of the video from the Court. So, either the Judge or someone in the Judge’s office apparently leaked the video to Willick or his followers to put out onto the internet as soon as possible. Moreover, at the time Willick or his followers posted the video online, the Clerk had not even officially unsealed the case, which was not officially unsealed until the afternoon. No court clerk was authorized to release the video to any third party before that time.
We have since also released the video online with our own explanation, but it was clearly a violation of the obligation to avoid the appearance of impropriety for the judge to have leaked the video to one of the parties, and to have done so outside the proper court channels.
Rule 2.12 of the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”) states that “A judge shall require court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to act in a manner consistent with the judge’s obligations under this Code.” The comment indicates that “A judge is responsible for his or her own conduct and for the conduct of others, such as staff, when those persons are acting at the judge’s direction or control.”
Further, Rule 1.2 of the Code states that “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and appearance of impropriety.”
Canon 2 of the Code states that “a judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently and diligently.”
Certainly, leaking a court video to one of the litigants’ counsels before it is made available to other litigants or to the public is not in keeping with the requirement to avoid impartiality or the appearance of impartiality and is a violation of Rule 2.12 which requires the judge not to engage in improper behavior or to permit his staff, which is under his legal responsibility, to do so.
- THE NEFARIOUS “SET UP”:
Instead of VIPI’s motions being heard by a Discovery Commissioner as is stated under Eighth Judicial District Rule 2.34, the judge arranged for VIPI’s motions to be heard by him personally. Attached hereto as Exhibit 3 is a copy of the Order.
In the Order, he represented that the purpose of the hearing was to rule on the outstanding discovery motions. Yet, shortly after taking the bench he advised counsel for VIPI that he had no intention of making any rulings on the discovery.
His Order also took the unusual step of stating: “The Court expects that all individuals related to the issues before the Court will be available to participate in the hearing.” While we have no problem with judges ordering parties to attend hearings, it is highly unusual for this to be done in a non-evidentiary discovery motion, particularly requiring a non-party to the case to personally show up. My lawyer even called Judge Duckworth’s courtroom and confirm that I and the other litigants were being ordered to personally appear. Notwithstanding how unusual this was, in good faith and wishing to comply with all court orders, I showed up with my lawyer. Yet, I was the only one to do so. Tellingly, the judge was unfazed that the actual parties to the case did not appear even when my lawyer pointed this out. He did not inquire about this, did not reprimand their lawyers, nor did he postpone the hearing to compel their appearance which he had at least pretended to order. It was clear that he was concerned only with having me there.
Immediately after counsels stated their appearances for the record, the judge swore me in to give testimony – he was turning this into an evidentiary hearing without any notice to me or my lawyer. Moreover, this became a hearing in which only he and I were witnesses! A clear conflict of interest for him.
- IMPROPER, FALSE AND SELF-SERVING RECORD: During the hearing, the judge was intent on making a false, unsupported, improbable and self-serving record that accused VIPI of trying to influence him in the divorce case based on a brief conversation that I had with him regarding VIPI’s “war” on family court last May, over three months ago.
Here is the background: I had appeared in his courtroom as a court monitor in May 2017 (the judge disputes the exact date but I think it’s irrelevant what the exact date was). During a break in the proceedings, I spoke to the judge as I have on other occasions, during which time the judge acknowledged VIPI’s “war” on family court corruption. During that conversation, the judge asked me “Am I ok?” I did not answer the judge, and after I left it was bothering me that I hadn’t responded since I have known the judge and had been friendly with him for over 9 years. VIPI had supported and endorsed him and we even recommended him for a presiding judge position in family court. (Attached as Exhibit 4 is a declaration I submitted in support of my motion to quash the subpoenas, which confirms the facts I’m reciting here.) So I thereafter texted the judge that I wanted to speak with him, which we did. During that phone conversation, I said words to the effect of “you asked me the other day ‘am I ok?’ and to answer your question, I can’t believe the crap you let Willick get away with in the Ansell case.” The judge immediately ended the conversation. He then texted me that I was trying to influence him on the case, which I was not trying to do – I had no information on the Ansell case. My comment was directed to Willick’s general litigation tactics of making allegations in pleadings without evidentiary support, just to see what sticks, a tactic he and his fiancé have used in their personal lawsuits against VIPI and me. VIPI had even complained about too much of these practices in its open letter. We believe in a basic court principal that every judge should abide by anyway – allegations should be supported by evidence. My comment had nothing to do with any particular procedural, substantive, parties-related or other issue in the case itself as I have no knowledge of any such issue and I have never even reviewed any paperwork in the case. (See my Declaration.) When the judge texted me immediately after the phone call, that I was trying to unduly influence him I responded saying that I was just trying to answer his question and that I wanted him to know what we were thinking at VIPI since he had asked and we had also put this in our open letter to the Presiding judge, and others.
In any event, at the August 30, 2017 hearing, the judge interrogated me as to what I meant by “crap” in my May phone conversation with him, and I explained. Despite my explanation and without any proof whatsoever, the judge started reciting a false narrative that he read into the record from a pre-written speech, apparently in complete disregard for any answers that I gave him. He accused VIPI of engaging in corruption, he showed his bias by stating that the VIPI Court Observers are nothing but “disgruntled litigants,” he mocked the fact that I attached a copy of an article showing that the FBI is investigation of family court corruption in California to my declaration, and he also falsely accused me and VIPI of failing to investigate our complaints against judges, an issue that had nothing to do with anything that was before him in the divorce case, but had everything to do with our pending complaints against him.
He then falsely stated at the end of the hearing that he had to recuse himself because my conversation with him may be subject to a corruption investigation to which he may be a witness. Yet, if that were the case, then he should have recused himself three months ago. Moreover, the real reason he was recusing himself at this time was his admission that he had just learned that one of his staff members also works for the husband in the divorce case, and that put the judge in an “appearance of impropriety” situation. He had again made a false narrative simply to try to discredit us.
Rule 2.10 of the Code states that “A judge shall not make any public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court, or make any nonpublic statement that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing.” The comment to this Rule states that “this Rule’s restrictions on judicial speech are essential to the maintenance of the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.” Given that the judge knew he was going to recuse himself since it was part of his pre-written speech, the only reason he could have had for making his speech was to influence whichever judicial officer was later going to rule on our outstanding motions (a violation of Rule 2.10), and to leak the video to Willick or his followers to post online to discredit me and my organization, which would help the judge in dealing with the outstanding complaints we made about him, and would help Willick (and his fiancé) in their private defamation suits against VIPI and me.
Further, Rule 1.3 of the Code states in relevant part that “a judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge…” Here, the judge’s actions, conclusions and speech were clearly motivated by his improper desire to use the credibility of a judicial proceeding to discredit VIPI and me in light of the pending complaints we made about him and the way he does his job – both the personal and economic interests of the judge.
- CONCLUSIONS UNSUPPORTED BY LAW OR EVIDENCE:
The judge’s conclusion was biased and was unsupported by the evidence or the law.
The judge concluded we were “corrupt” despite making the following admissions:
- The judge has had a friendly relationship with me for over nine years and neither VIPI nor I have ever tried to influence the judge on a case.
- Other than the brief phone conversation at issue, there was no indication that I was trying to influence him on the case in any way.
- Neither I nor VIPI were parties to the case, or were even subpoenaed as witnesses or anything else at the time I made the statement to the judge.
- My alleged attempt to influence the judge was made at an “odd” time in the case — after the party on whose behalf the influence was allegedly intended had already won the main issue in the case.
- I had no knowledge about the issues or merits of the case, and did not impart any substantive information to the judge.
- My statement to the judge was about Willick’s courtroom antics, the same lawyer who was suing me separately, and not about the litigants or their specific issues.
- The judge could point to no effect that this conversation had on the case, and my statement had no tie to any ruling on any issue in the case.
- The judge admitted that there was no gag order in the case, yet was upset that I may have spoken to one of the parties in the case, even about non-confidential, non-sealed issues. This is a violation of VIPI’s and my First Amendment and journalistic rights.
- The Judge did not view my conversation with him to be significant enough to recuse himself over the three months since that conversation took place.
In addition, even if the judge thought that my singular comment was an “ex parte communication,” Rule 2.9(A) of the Code states that ex parte communications (even by parties, let alone by a non-party like VIPI) are not prohibited “if the judge reasonably believes that no party will gain a procedural, substantive, or tactical advantage as a result of the ex parte communication” and notifies the parties of it, which he had already done in a prior May 17, 2017 hearing. Rule 2.9(A)(5) of the Code states that “a judge may initiate, permit or consider any ex parte communication when authorized by law to do so.”
Further, Rule 2.9(B) states that “if a judge inadvertently receives an unauthorized ex parte communication bearing upon the substance of a matter, the judge shall make provision promptly to notify the parties of the substance of the communication and provide the parties with an opportunity to respond.” It does not state that such communications constitute corruption. Here, the judge admits that there was no communication that pertained to any substantive issue in the case, the judge notified the parties in a May hearing of the nature of the communication, and there was no evidence that the statement influenced the court in any way, let alone constituted “corruption” by VIPI or an attempt to subvert the judicial process.
- JUDGE NOT IMPARTIAL OR OPEN-MINDED, IGNORED EXAMPLES GIVEN OF PERCEIVED BIAS, AND FAILS TO LET THE PARTIES BE ADEQUATELY HEARD: During the hearing, counsels made several arguments to the judge pointing out the lack of evidence for numerous conclusions that the judge jumped to without any evidence. The judge refused to address them, told counsels that he did not want further discussion and railroaded the hearing towards his end-goal agenda of discrediting VIPI and me.
Comment 1 to Rule 2.2 of the Code states that “a judge must be objective and open-minded.” The judge here was neither. He questioned me about the statement, but it was clear that he had no interest in my explanation and was going to reach his pre-written conclusion regardless of what I said.
Further, Comment 4 to Rule 2.5 states that “a judge must demonstrate due regard for the rights of parties to be heard and to have issues resolved without unnecessary cost or delay.” The judge did not give counsels the opportunity to be heard on the unfounded accusations in his speech, and by hauling us into court under false pretenses and creating issues where they don’t exist, has failed to resolve the case without unnecessary cost or delay to the parties and to myself and my organization.
- LACK OF JUDICIAL TEMPERMENT: During the course of the hearing, the judge stormed off the bench two times. Once in the middle of hearing when he got angry and again at the end of the hearing when he wanted no response to his “speech.” This type of behavior does not reflect the proper judicial temperament required of a judge.
VIPI used to have high regard for Judge Duckworth, and even endorsed him in his campaign to become a judge and had recommended him for a presiding judge position. But, this was the first time we have been before Judge Duckworth as litigants. What we experienced unfortunately causes us to reinforce our public complaints against this judge. If he acted this way with us, we cannot imagine what he does to other litigants who do not even have the benefit of counsel.
We ask that this Commission please investigate this judge and his retaliatory tactics.
Very truly yours,
President, Veterans In Politics International, Inc.