MEET THE INCUMBENT
Judge Elissa F. Cadish
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In this edition of Meet the Incumbent, VLM interviews Judge Elissa F. Cadish, a judge in the Nevada Sixth Judicial Court.
Some background—some very impressive background about Judge Cadish… She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986, with a Bachelor’s of Arts (with honors) in political science, and she received her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1989, where she was a member of the Virginia Law Review and was awarded the Order of the Coif.
In 1991, Cadish moved to Las Vegas and clerked for 2 years for Hon. Philip M. Pro in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. Private practice followed, where she focused on commercial litigation and employment law, and from 1995-2007 she practiced at Hale Lane Peek Dennison & Howard where she became a shareholder in 2000.
In July 2007, Cadish was appointed by Governor Jim Gibbons to fill the District Judge vacancy left by Judge Joseph Bonaventure’s retirement, assuming the position of District Judge in Department 6 one month later. It’s a seat for which she’s run and won ever since.
An impressive list of accolades rounds out Cadish’s contributions to the Las Vegas legal community and the local community, at large…a community you’ll soon read she appreciates for its size that allows attorneys and judges to work together more consistently than in large metro areas where paths rarely cross twice. Catering to a love of law that dates to her tween years, for the last 20 years she’s lent her time as a judge in the We the People competition among high school students regarding knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, and she now chairs the Nevada Bar’s Law Related Education Committee which oversees the We the People program as well as other educational programs. Judge Cadish has also volunteered to serve as a judge for the very successful Trial by Peers program run by the Clark County Law Foundation.
Cadish is an active member of the Southern Nevada Association of Women Attorneys after having served as its president from 2004-2006. She is also an active member of Congregation Ner Tamid, where she was on the Sisterhood Board of Directors from 2006-2014, serving as its Parliamentarian. Recognized by Congregation Ner Tamid as a Woman of Valor in November 2011, she’s a life member of Hadassah, and joined the board of the Jewish Family Service Agency in Las Vegas in January 2014.
In February 2012, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to be a United States District Judge for the District of Nevada. And in May of 2016, she was a recipient of the Liberty Bell Award given out by the Clark County Law Foundation.
Vegas Legal Magazine: What in your childhood or young adulthood could you look back on as a sign of what was ahead for you in your law career? Did you have a moment when you knew what you wanted to do?
Judge Cadish: I have known I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 10 or 11 years old. When I was in high school, I joined and became president of a local Law Explorers group. I have always enjoyed the law and legal analysis. I went to college as a political science major and then straight to law school. Once I clerked for Judge Pro, I decided I wanted to eventually be a judge. I applied to fill an open seat in the District Court in 2007, and ultimately was appointed by Governor Gibbons to Department 6.
VLM: What do you love most about being involved in the law community in Las Vegas? Does it differ from practicing law or sitting on the bench elsewhere?
JC: I really enjoy that this is still a small enough legal community that it is easy to get to know most lawyers and judges. As an attorney, you get to appear in front of the same judges multiple times and often interact with a small group of attorneys in your particular area of practice. It is more pleasant to work with folks who you know and who get to know you. It also promotes more civility when you know that the person you are dealing with on this case will also be involved on future cases with you, and deters rude or unprofessional conduct. It is different than larger cities like Los Angeles and New York where you may never see the same judge or lawyer twice.
VLM: What is the most memorable case you tried as an attorney before taking the bench? Please share why.
JC: I was involved in a major patent case in the United States District Court before Judge Pro, which was tried from November 2002 through January 2003. This case involved important legal issues about the patent application process and intentional delays by an applicant, and their effect on the ability of the patent holder to seek damages for alleged infringement by others who create a product while the application was pending. I was part of a large team of lawyers working on this case, and learned a lot about managing a complex trial.
VLM: What is the most memorable case you have presided over as a judge…and why?
JC: I have presided over several capital murder trials, and any case where there is a possibility of a death being ordered is memorable. I have had some great lawyers involved in those cases, who raise interesting and challenging issues. Ultimately, nothing gives me pause and emphasizes the importance of ensuring a fair trial like signing a death warrant.
VLM: What is the most challenging thing about sitting on the bench versus trying cases as an attorney? And was there something in your transition that took some getting used to?
JC: The most challenging part is the sheer volume of cases that we deal with on a weekly basis. In a given week, it is not unusual to rule on more than 50 criminal matters and more than 10 civil matters just on my regular morning calendars. This does not count rulings made throughout any trials I preside over. I read every brief for every case, so this takes quite a bit of time. However, it is important to do so in order to ensure the correct decisions are made.
VLM: Describe a situation where you had to support a legal position that conflicted with your personal beliefs, and how you handled it.
JC: As a judge, it is my job to follow the law regardless of my personal beliefs. If there is a binding statute or case law, I apply it to the facts as I find them, absent any concern about its constitutionality. If changes in the law are needed, the legislature is the place to address them.
VLM: Describe a court situation that tested the limits of your patience. How did you respond? And in hindsight, would you have done anything different?
JC: I have had multiple situations where attorneys on a case did not get along, and their arguments degraded into personal attacks on each other. I always redirect them to address their remarks to the court rather than to each other, and to focus on the merits of the case rather than actions of counsel. I emphasize that actions of counsel are not going to change my application of the facts and the law. Most of the time, this type of reminder is sufficient to avoid this behavior continuing.
VLM: Biggest pet peeve triggered by attorneys that appear in your courtroom?
JC: My pet peeve is attorneys who do not respect the formality of the courtroom. I expect attorneys to dress appropriately in court (pro tip: jeans and a sport jacket are not appropriate dress). I also expect an attorney during a trial to ask [permission] each time before approaching the bench, the clerk or the witness. An occasional joke can be acceptable to break the tension, but the courtroom warrants the respect of appropriate professional conduct.
VLM: What is your best piece of advice for litigants and/or attorneys that appear in your courtroom?
JC: All attorneys should know what they are asking the court to do and be prepared to address the other side’s arguments. Too often, attorneys don’t seem to know what claims or parties would be resolved by their motion, or haven’t thought through the implications of what they are asking for. Attorneys also should listen and respond to questions from the judge. After all, that is the person you are trying to persuade!
VLM: Knowing what you now know about your work, what advice would you go back and give your younger self about practicing law, or sitting on the bench?
JC: I would tell my younger self to work harder at developing relationships with my fellow attorneys and clients. This would have helped to develop a more robust book of business for myself as a practicing attorney. I also would tell my younger self to be more confident in making recommendations and giving advice to clients.
VLM: What has being a judge meant to you?
JC: I absolutely love being a judge! I enjoy being the neutral party to listen to all sides and make the best decision under the facts and the law. I also feel that by working hard and being prepared to make the best possible decision, I am contributing to the community as a whole. It is very satisfying to feel that I am helping to inspire confidence in the judicial system on the part of lawyers, parties, and jurors.