Published on October 26th, 2022 | by Isabelle Karamooz, Founder of FQM0
“This is the community that raised me!”: French Quarter Magazine’s Interview with the Honorable and Incumbent Judge Ellie Roohani
The Honorable Judge Ellie Roohani is the incumbent Judge candidate in District Court Department 11 of Clark County, having been appointed to the bench in December 2021 after Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez stepped down. Judge Ellie Roohani is challenged by attorney Anna Albertson who submitted an application for the same appointment but was not selected.
Judge Roohani has discussed with French Quarter Magazine some of her formative experiences at the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a federal prosecutor and as the Judge in Department 11, her proven experience that we need in Clark County District Court, the rewards of practicing civil law, and her advice for law students and young attorneys who appear before her.
How does someone become a Judge in Nevada? What experience in your career best prepared you to be a Judge?
To become a Judge in Nevada, the only legal requirements are that you have to have lived in Nevada for at least two years and you have to have been an attorney in any state for at least 10 years. I have filled the requirement because I have lived in here in Las Vegas my whole life, since I was one year old and I have been an attorney for almost 12 years now. I graduated from the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV in 2010, passed the bar the same year, and taught legal writing at the law school. I am very proud of our law school. We have the number one legal writing program in the entire country. After I left the law school, I worked with the federal courts for several years, and joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2016 as a federal prosecutor. As a federal prosecutor, I handled cases involving sex crimes against children and other violent crime.
What makes me the best prepared for this court and this department is that I have both civil and criminal experience at the trial court level. District Court is our trial level Court. That means this Court deals with any civil dispute over fifteen thousand dollars or a criminal case that is going to go to trial in a felony or gross misdemeanor case. My work and dedication of my career to public service before becoming a Judge gave me experience in civil law and being in court and presenting to Judges and Juries. I was a trial attorney and I was an appeals attorney. That is pretty rare in Nevada. In our legal system, lawyers typically do trials or appeals, but not both, because they are very different skill sets. It is why I can easily handle a mixed civil and criminal calendar in Department 11.
When I worked for the courts, I worked for judges that are very well respected in this community and across the country. So, I have learned first-hand being in close quarters with these jurists, what it takes to be a good judge both in terms of work ethic, what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing when you’re working on cases, as well as about temperament and professionalism.
The Judicial Selection Commission, which is a non-partisan group of judges, lawyers, and community leaders across the state has already determined that I am the best candidate in this race.
How did you get to this point of becoming a Judge?
How I became a Judge is a little bit different than how typically people become Judges in Nevada. I was appointed by the Governor (which is who the Nevada Constitution gives appointment power) on December 16, 2021 after Judge Betsy Gonzalez retired. Her retirement created a vacancy, and when there is a vacancy, the Judicial Selection Commission convenes. There is an application process, thorough background check, and interview process. I think what is important for your readers to know is that Judges are nonpartisan in Nevada so the Judicial Selection Commission does not consider political affiliation when they recommend the top three applicants, and the Governor does not consider it either when he appoints. This is a non-political and non-partisan office. Republican Governors have appointed Democrats; Democratic Governors have appointed Republicans so in this state, it is not what you would consider a political appointment.
Tell us a bit about District Court Department 11.
We have different levels of courts. So, let me start with Justice Court and what cases Justice Court handles. Justice Court is small claims (civil disputes under $15,000), all our preliminary hearings in criminal cases (this is where the judge determines if there is probable cause that the defendant committed a crime), and all evictions. District Court is the next level Court; so, you started Justice Court and then the next level up is District Court. Clark County is part of the 8th Judicial District Court. District Court is all civil matters above $15,000 and all criminal matters that are felonies and gross misdemeanors (punishable up to 1 year in jail). The department numbers tell you the types of cases the judge hears and are not divided by location. We get additional judges/departments when our population increases.
Is there anything that you want people to know about you as you embark on the role as a Judge and take this seat again?
I would like people to know that I am the current Judge right now and so they are not voting for an unknown commodity. They are voting for somebody who has been thoroughly vetted. Very intelligent people who didn’t know me at all determined that I was the most qualified person for this job. I have been doing the work for almost a year. But, the best barometer of whether you are a good judge or not, is whether lawyers support you? Those are the people who appear in front of me all the time. They know if I am a mean person, they know if I am overly nice, they know if I am biased, they know if I am smart, etc. I have the support of every single type of lawyer who appears in front of me – civil plaintiff and defense attorneys, criminal prosecutors and defense attorneys.
What is your philosophy on training new lawyers?
It is important for me to support new lawyers and give them a forum to practice. I love giving new lawyers an opportunity to argue in a safe place where they can learn and where their supervisors feel comfortable letting them learn. I make it a point to mentor young attorneys who are the first person in their family to go to law school, especially young women of color. I try to be the person they can look up to and who they can ask to be their champion. I have a few young people who have become incredible attorneys under my mentorship and I am very very proud of them.
What do you love the most about living in Las Vegas?
I am from Las Vegas. This is my home! This has always been my home and this will always be. This is the place I was raised. This is the community that raised me! I was born in Pakistan to immigrant parents who are religious refugees. My parents sacrificed so much for my brother and me. My mother, who is the most amazing woman, was a doctor; she never worked as a doctor here in the United States because she focused on raising my brother and me. It was very difficult for her to come as a refugee and to figure out how the United States worked upon everything else. I am also proud to say that I was raised by my grandmother (my nana), who now lives with me and helps me raise my two little girls.
What is important for you as a role model and conducting training and being a mentor for young attorneys? What does it mean?
I think young attorneys need people to be honest with them so you help them build confidence. I am the first South Asian Judge in the whole state so I think it is important for young brown girls who look like me and who came from a different part of the world to see that they can be successful. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t born in this country. It doesn’t matter that your parents were poor when you were growing up. If you work hard and if you take advantage of the things that your community can offer, you can do great things and be successful.
As for yourself, who have been your mentors? What did you learn about law from them?
My legal mentor is Judge Johnnie Rawlinson (and she continues to be my mentor). She is the first black woman who served on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The things that I have learned from her is that the law is the most important thing in the sense that my opinion about what the law should be doesn’t matter. I don’t make the law. People elect legislators to make the law. My job is to be honest, to have integrity, to be patient, to be kind, and most importantly to follow the law because when you do that everybody knows what to expect. That’s what real Justice is. Everybody is treated the same under the law if you apply it evenly to everybody.
What advice do you give to law students or young attorneys?
I always tell people that you need to remember that you are a human being before you are a lawyer; you are a community servant before you are a lawyer; you are a mother before you are a lawyer. It is our humanity that makes us strong. I also tell students to find their Leslie (that’s my best friend and I tell them to find their best friend). Your Leslie is your rock and the person who is always honest and supportive of you. I also say find your Judge Rawlinson (that’s my mentor and my champion). Your Judge Rawlinson is the person who is going to mentor you and then push you to do more, be more, be better.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with my children. I have two girls; the youngest is two-years-old and the oldest is five-years-old. They are both in school and I make sure that they experience the world not with things but with experiences. We go to the children’s museum where they can do art; we talk with each other and we tell each other stories and ask each other questions. I teach my children that their voice matters, that they are allowed to talk to adults and that their parents care about them. They are my extra-mini mentees. I remember to learn from my kids in the same way they learn from me.
You can learn more about Judge Ellie Roohani by visiting her website: www.ellie4judge.com