Typically, being qualified for a job is key to actually obtaining that job. This is not true for former Las Vegas City Council member and state Assembly member-turned-soon-to-be-Judge Michele Fiore. Fiore, who just lost her bid to become Nevada’s treasurer, has never practiced law. Indeed, it’s rare to serve as a judge when one has not even attended law school. But more troubling is that Fiore has been the subject of at least one federal investigation and civil suit, has bragged about breaking the state law when she was a member of the state Assembly and previously suggested that law enforcement officers opt not to follow the law. She also appears to seriously lack what the American Bar Association refers to as “judicial temperament.”
Fiore has bragged about breaking the state law when she was a member of the state Assembly and previously suggested that law enforcement officers opt not to follow the law.
Despite all the marks against her, five Nye County commissioners voted unanimously to appoint her to a local judgeship.
Although in small counties in Nevada there is no requirement that justices of the peace have law degrees, Fiore’s dearth of experience will have consequences for her work on the Pahrump Justice Court. She will be charged with deciding whether there is enough evidence for felony and gross misdemeanor cases to proceed to a trial in a state district court. Fiore will also preside over cases that include non-traffic misdemeanors and small claims.
While we don’t know all of the reasons that the county commissioners have for supporting Fiore, we know that at least for Donna Cox, the commissioner who made the motion to appoint Fiore, former President Trump’s endorsement of Fiore was key. Cox specifically mentioned Trump’s endorsement (yes, the same Trump who attempted a self-coup and is the subject of federal and state criminal investigations) and said, “That speaks very loudly and it was an honor to receive this.”
These might sound like small cases with few ramifications. But this is not the case. For the people who appear before Fiore, and any other justice of the peace, these cases have real impacts on their freedom and their finances.
While Fiore has a disturbing lack of experience practicing law, she possesses an equally troubling abundance of experience as the subject of legal troubles. In 2021, the Las Vegas Review-Journal Fiore reported Fiore was under federal investigation based on her campaign finance practices. Last year the FBI searched her home and obtained records in connection with that inquiry. (Fiore has consistently denied any wrongdoing to local reporters.)
And there’s more. Fiore’s former friend and political confidant, Victoria Seasman, alleged that Fiore assaulted her by breaking her finger, and she sued Fiore in September. (Fiore denied the allegations, calling them a smear campaign executed by “liberal Republicans.”)
And while how one conducts their finances is not always a mark of how one functions in the workplace, it is worth noting here that Fiore and her business have also been subject to tax liens totaling a million dollars. (Fiore blamed her ex-husband and an accountant for the issue, and claimed she has since addressed the problem.) Judges are often held to a different standard when it comes to their financial backgrounds, if for no other reason than our desire to have judges who are not susceptible to bribery.
Fiore also appears not always to be a fan of a little thing called the rule of law. Years ago, she voiced her support for an armed militia, a member of which, Cliven Bundy, was imprisoned based on a land dispute with federal law enforcement officers. During a standoff between members of the armed militia and law enforcement officers, Fiore told the law enforcement members “not to obey your superiors when given a direct order to attack your fellow Americans fighting for the freedoms granted to us by our Constitution.” In response to the standoff over federal land in Nevada, Fiore sponsored a bill that would have barred the federal government from owning land in Nevada without Nevada’s approval. The stumbling block here is that such a proposal is unconstitutional.
Going to law school does not mean a person is smart. Going to law school means a person has been exposed to legal analysis, rules and theories.
Fiore also admitted to violating state laws regarding gun possession. Fiore proudly stated that she carried a gun in gun-free zones. In case there was any question about Fiore’s view of the rule of law, Fiore proclaimed, “I’m not going to be a victim of a stupid law.” It harms the judicial system as a whole when those doling out justice may not even be particularly concerned about following the law.
Going to law school does not mean a person is smart. There are plenty of brilliant people who cannot or do not attend any graduate school. Going to law school means a person has been exposed to legal analysis, rules and theories. That is a big help if one’s job is to apply the relevant legal rules to the facts of a case.
We could have an honest debate about whether law school should always be a prerequisite for being a judge, but that is only one of many strikes that makes Fiore less than “judge material.”
Ultimately there is a cost when people such as Fiore take on positions of trust and power to which they appear unqualified. And the cost will be borne by the litigants before her. A government of the people, by the people and for the people works only when the people in the government are competent.