In this edition of Meet the Incumbent, we interview Judge Jerry Wiese, the presiding judge in Department 30 of the Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County, Nevada.
Having moved to Las Vegas at the age of three, by Vegas standards, Judge Weise is as native as it gets. He attended Rancho High School, graduated and went to BYU in Utah for undergraduate studies. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and then went to McGeorge School of Law, in Sacramento, California. After graduating from law school, he returned to Las Vegas, and went to work for the law firm of Vannah & Costello. After about 4 years, he joined forces with his best friend, Donald Williams, and formed the firm of Williams & Wiese. The firm focused primarily on personal injury, medical malpractice, workers compensation, wrongful death, insurance bad faith, contracts, etc. Before taking the bench, Judge Weise practiced as an attorney for approximately 16 years, with about 8 years primarily focused on defense work, and about 8 years practicing primarily plaintiff work.
A family man at heart, Judge Wiese spends as much time as possible with his family. He has a beautiful wife of 26 years, and four awesome children, ages 20, 14, 12, and 9. He has coached all of his children in soccer, and the his boys in basketball. He has been a Boy Scout leader for many years, and currently serves as a Scoutmaster. A devout Mormon, Judge Wiese is active in his church, and always seem to have one job or another working with the youth.
Vegas Legal: What is the most memorable case you tried as an attorney before taking the bench?
Judge Wiese: There are many, but the easiest one to remember is the most recent. Shortly before taking the bench, I tried an insurance bad faith case on behalf of the Plaintiff, in Federal Court. Opposing counsels were Tom Winner and Matt Douglas. They were professional, courteous, and what I would consider “gentlemen” throughout litigation. It was always a pleasure to work with other professional litigators. I believe it may have been Judge Gloria Navarro’s first civil trial, and she did a phenomenal job. The Jury found that American Family Insurance Co. did breach its insurance contract, and awarded contractual damages, and further found that it violated NRS 686A.310, and awarded additional damages to the Plaintiff. The damages weren’t what we were hoping for, and the jury did not award punitive damages, but it was still a success and the Plaintiff recovered substantially more than the insurance contract.
Vegas Legal: What made you decide to run for judge?
Judge Wiese: Ever since I was a small child I wanted to be a lawyer, but I never had aspirations to be a Judge. It wasn’t until my good friend, and now fellow Judge, Tim Williams, suggested it, that I finally thought about it. He suggested that he thought I had the temperament to be a Judge, and he thought I would like it. I felt like it would be an opportunity for me to serve the people in Clark County, so I gave it a shot. I always felt that I helped people as an attorney, but it was one person at a time, and I didn’t really feel like I was making a big difference in the world. I always compared myself to my wife, who teaches 2nd grade students, and I was jealous because I believe teachers make a much more significant contribution to society, and make a much bigger difference in the world, than I was able to make as an attorney. I felt like I would be able to make a bigger difference in the world, hopefully for the better, as a District Court Judge. I ran for the District Court bench once back in 2006, and lost badly. I wasn’t planning to run again, but again Judge Williams convinced me to give it another shot. In 2010, I ran a hard campaign, spent a lot of time and money, and finally prevailed. Hopefully as a Judge I’ll be able to make a positive difference and benefit our community.
Vegas Legal: What does being a judge mean to you?
Judge Wiese: To me a good Judge is one who starts on time, who has read the briefs and is prepared, who allows the lawyers to do their jobs, who listens and treats the lawyers and parties with respect, who follows the laws, who is willing to admit when he is wrong, and who is willing to work. I do the best I can to follow these guidelines as a Judge. As a trial attorney, all I wanted was to have a Judge who would be prepared, listen to the arguments, follow the law, and allow me to do my job. I do the best that I can and I try to follow the law and always make the right decisions. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, a Judge gets it wrong. I am humble enough to know that I sometimes get it wrong, and I have no problem admitting it when an attorney can convince me that I missed something, misread a case, or simply misapplied the law.
Another aspect of being a judge involves education in the community. As a sitting Judge I have the opportunity not only to sit on the Board of the Clark County Law Library, and the Nevada Judicial Council, but I have the opportunity to go into schools and educate children about the importance of the court system, government in general, citizenship, and character development. I serve on the Advisory Board of Canyon Springs High School, I volunteer with High School Mock Trials and the “We the People” program, and I work with a wonderful program called “Project Real,” in educating the community about the legal system, and helping kids make good choices like staying in school, staying away from drugs and alcohol, etc.
Being a Judge to me means doing my very best every day, to make the right decisions, and making a positive difference in the community.
Vegas Legal: What is your favorite and least favorite thing about being a Judge?
Judge Wiese: I would say that my favorite thing about being a Judge is the opportunity to educate kids about the legal system, whether it is in their school, or when the kids visit the Court on a field trip. I found that when I was a lawyer and went to schools for career days and things like that, the kids were generally bored. When I put on a black robe, and show the kids my gavel (which I never use), and I stand next to my Marshall, Kurt Taylor, (who is wearing his gun), then the kids listen and they’re interested. I use that opportunity to try to persuade them to stay out of trouble, stay out of gangs and away from drugs, make good choices generally, and set positive goals for themselves.
I also really enjoy the Judicial Settlement Conference Program, where we are able to help the lawyers and litigants resolve their cases through settlement conferences. It allows parties to have their “day in court,” where they can tell a real Judge about their case, and how they feel, and it provides a quicker and more efficient way of resolving cases, in which the parties actually get to maintain some control. They say that a good settlement is one in which all the parties leave equally unhappy, but I’ve found that usually when cases settle, most parties and attorneys leave “equally content.” If I can help the parties and attorneys resolve their cases without the need to drag jurors into the courthouse, and everyone leaves “equally content,” I feel like it’s been a pretty good day.
My “least favorite” thing is watching the lawyers in a Trial, or ruling on a motion, when the lawyers are not adequately prepared. It is not the Judge’s job to advocate for one side or the other, but it frustrates me to see poor lawyering. Even worse are the lawyers who feel like they need to be “jerks” in order to do their job. They are few and far between, but if every lawyer would act professionally and courteously, grant extensions, pick up the phone and call to work issues out instead of writing nasty letters, we would all be happier, and the legal profession in general would be looked at more positively in the community.
Vegas Legal: What is the most memorable case you have presided over as a judge?
Judge Wiese: One of the most memorable cases I presided over was one of the Endoscopy cases, primarily because it took so long, and involved complex legal issues. The Supreme Court granted a Stay in the middle of Trial, and the jurors were essentially in limbo for a period of months while the Supreme Court evaluated the Writ issue. Once the Supreme Court decided the writ, we got back to the Trial, but before the parties rested, and before the Jury could deliberate, the parties settled all of the endoscopy cases, and the jury was discharged.
Vegas Legal: Describe a situation where you had to support a legal position that conflicted with your personal beliefs? Please tell us how you handled it.
Judge Wiese: At this point in my career, luckily, I can’t think of an instance, either as an attorney or as a Judge, where I’ve had to support a legal position that conflicted with my personal beliefs. There are decisions that are handed down, by the Nevada Supreme Court, or the U.S. Supreme Court, with which I don’t completely agree, but as a Judge I have always followed the controlling law.
Vegas Legal: Describe a court situation that tested the limits of your patience. How did you respond? In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
Judge Wiese: There have only been a couple of instances where the lawyers’ lack of preparation or lack of respect for the Court has tested my patience. I always try to keep my cool, and I try to remember that they are representing clients who may expect them to be aggressive and loud. I think there has been only one or two occasions where I was forced to raise my voice at someone, and I guess in hindsight, I would try to maintain my cool in all situations.
Vegas Legal: What’s is your best piece of advice for litigants and/or attorneys?
Judge Wiese: Be prepared, follow the rules, show respect for the Court, and be on time. Ultimately, if the litigants and parties would try to work out their issues before bringing them to the Court, the issues would be drastically narrowed, and the Court could resolve legal issues instead of having to address the simple little issues that could have been worked out on the phone.
Vegas Legal: What is your passion outside of the law?
Judge Wiese: Although I like golfing, I’m not very good, so I don’t golf as often as I used to. My passion is really my family. I spend as much time as possible with them. If I’m not coaching a sports team, or working with them in scouts, it’s fun to just go swimming with them, play games together, travel, etc. I love my family, and they are the most important thing to me.
Vegas Legal: What do you love most about Vegas?
Judge Wiese: My favorite thing about Las Vegas is the people. Whenever I travel and people learn that I am from Las Vegas, they think of “sin city,” or that people must “live on the strip.” I think we have the best people in the world here in Las Vegas. I have found that we have wonderful, caring, positive people in Las Vegas, who work hard to make this a great community. The people in Las Vegas care about their families, and do their best to train them to be positive, contributing members of society. There’s no other place I’d rather live!