Man under bridge
Reflections from the Bench: The air is better outside a bubble

By Hon. Diana L. Sullivan

Man under bridge

I was born and raised in Las Vegas. It has always been my home. In my 50 years, I’ve only been gone for seven years, during college and law school. After graduating, I moved back and felt like I picked up right where I left off, returning to the same community I knew and loved.

I practiced “sanitary” law for several years – you know, business litigation. I bought a home on the same side of town where I grew up. I socialized with my childhood friends. I had children and put them into the same public school system I attended. For 16 years after law school, I lived in my middle-class, hometown “bubble.”

And then, I was elected to the bench.

I was elected to the limited-jurisdiction Las Vegas Justice Court bench – basically the kitchen sink of jurisprudence. Our court is tasked with, among other jurisdiction, misdemeanors, preliminary proceedings of felonies, and all evictions — in a county of 2 million.

My second week on the job – after a preliminary hearing involving a 16-year-old boy who shot and killed his best friend – I closed the door to my chambers and cried my eyes out. I cried because the “bubble” I knew and loved so well had burst. Those first two weeks on the bench taught me that the community I thought I knew was, in reality, a den of crime, homelessness and misfortune. That day I questioned whether I wanted to stay here another minute.

I say “here” because nine years later, I am still here. I’m still on the bench and have grown into a new normalcy.  Even though my employment is not as pristine as it was in the private business sector, I love every minute of every day of every week of my work. My former work entailed contracts and money – my work now involves humanity at its core.

The list of people I’ve had stand before me in my courtroom includes celebrities, former neighbors, street performers of Spider-Man and Chewbacca and everyone in between. The “everyone in between” may be the least memorable but the most important. They are veterans who have addictions, construction workers who have lost their homes because of layoffs, and mean-spirited people who victimize others because it is easier than getting a job. Some have only been in court once. Some are here so often they know most of the jail and court staff by their first names. I love dealing with them all because there’s never a dull moment.

Do I miss living in my bubble? In my bubble there were no addicted veterans and moms, everyone worked and could support themselves and their families, and only bad people committed crimes.

The honest answer is no – I don’t miss my bubble at all because I now realize that my bubble was nothing more than a fragile, enclosed space of limited air and reality. There was an entire world outside the bubble – good and bad – that I never knew existed and never had the opportunity to see.

Since my bubble burst, I am less naïve but more compassionate. Even though I am still talkative, I hear others more than I hear myself. I am a better judge of people who appear before me, a better parent to my children, and a better citizen of my community.

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