VLM: What does being a judge mean to you?
JR: My family came here as religious refugees from Iran after the Iranian Revolution. The new Islamic Regime did not recognize my parents as equal citizens or as citizens at all because they practiced the Baha’i Faith. If I had been born in Iran, I would not have been allowed to attend school, hold a job, have my marriage recognized, or be buried according to my faith. Because of this background, it has always been a familiar refrain in my family that “America is the best country in the world because its laws protect everyone.”
I feel that my role as a judge is to ensure that our system of laws is protected and effectuated. That means people can vindicate their rights in court; they have a forum in which to have their grievances heard; and they will be treated fairly and equally under the same laws that apply to everyone. While advocates do many of these things, my special role as a judge is to be a fair referee, ensure respect of the system, and make sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect throughout the process.
VLM: How do you exercise judicial discretion where there is ambiguity in legal authority? For example, how likely are you to sanction a litigant who violates a procedural rule, e.g. failing to file a document in a timely manner?
JR: If there is ambiguity, I find the most analogous case in terms of facts and law. Then, I use that paradigm to do the legal analysis, faithfully apply the facts of the case before me to the law, and reach the conclusion that the law demands. If there is still ambiguity, then turning to equity, it is important to err on the side of giving people their day in court and hearing cases on the merits.
Rules are important because they create an even playing field and set up clear parameters for everyone to follow. But, I also understand that attorneys (like judges) have tons of cases and mistakes happen. Most mistakes are easily cured with a little extra attention and don’t cause harm.
VLM: What was the most memorable case you tried as an attorney before taking the bench?
JR: My most memorable and meaningful case was also the hardest of my career because I was fighting to obtain justice for several child victims of sexual assault and exploitation. Helping them receive closure to be able to heal was one of the most tremendously poignant moments of my life. But, having to embrace and re-live their trauma with them in investigating the case, preparing it for trial, presenting it to the jury, and seeking a substantial prison sentence was also extremely trying on me personally and professionally. There is nothing more rewarding than watching a broken young girl turn a corner and commit to rebuilding her life and crediting her safety to you.
VLM: Have you ever experienced a situation where you had to support a legal position that conflicted with your personal beliefs? If so, how did you handle it?
JR: I was once assigned the week before trial to jump on a case prosecuting a young man. When I did my due diligence and read the case file and reviewed the evidence, I did not feel that this was a man who needed a lengthy prison sentence, or that society would be benefitted from incarcerating him for any period of time. Instead of preparing for trial, I spent hours upon hours convincing upper-management that this young man needed the services that supervision could provide him. Then, I spent hours convincing defense counsel that it was in the best interest of the defendant to accept the conviction and the accompanying services to rebuild his life. Finally, I did my best advocacy convincing the judge to sign on to the agreement. Through this process I learned that fighting for my convictions (even when it meant fighting every person along the way) would yield positive results. That young man is now employed and living a law abiding life and has a young child he can care for.
VLM: Has there ever been a situation that tested the limits of your patience? Do you have any advice for handling those moments?
JR: I would like to think that I am patient person, but I think everyone thinks that about themselves. I have only had one situation that really tested my patience. And, it tested my patience because it ran afoul of my deep respect for our system of justice in this country. The only thing that I cannot tolerate (and I don’t think that any judges should tolerate) is disrespect of the system itself. Our civil and criminal systems in this country may not be perfect, but they are the best that the world can offer right now. So, it is incumbent on each of us (lawyers, judges, and citizens) to dedicate ourselves to protect the system. I can overlook a lot while on the bench, but if I don’t protect system of justice that ensures each person the ability to have their voice heard and justice to be meted out fairly, then I have failed in my duty as a judge.
VLM: Do you have any attorney pet peeves?
JR: I don’t like it when people lie. It is better to admit that there is no helpful authority and to advocate fiercely than to lie about the facts or the law.
VLM: What is your best piece of advice for litigants and/or attorneys?
JR: Know the legal standard. Know what is a question of fact and what is a question of law. Don’t be evasive. It is ok to say you don’t know or that the law isn’t developed. Give your best advocacy to your client in writing and in argument. Send the attorney who is most familiar with the filing to make the argument, even if that attorney is new. The only way that we can train new attorneys is to give them a chance to get their feet wet in court. In the same vein, show up prepared because I will show up prepared and I will have questions that don’t involve attorneys regurgitating the pleadings.
VLM: What is your passion outside of law?
JR: Have you seen me? I love eating and food and cooking. The pandemic put a damper on my trying new restaurants. But now that some restrictions are being lifted, I can’t wait to get back and eat the best Las Vegas has to offer.
VLM: Finally…what do you love most about Las Vegas?
JR: Las Vegas raised me. This is where I grew up and where my children will grow up. Every good memory I have from my whole life has been here. Every birthday, every anniversary, my wedding, the birth of both of my children, and serving my community, has all happened right here. Las Vegas is my home and will always hold my heart. I hope to continue serving this community for as long as I am allowed to do so.
You can learn more about Judge Roohani by visiting her website: https://www.ellie4judge.com.