I-Team: Judge criticized for exchange with child

LAS VEGAS - A family court judge has been criticized for her treatment of a pre-teen in her courtroom.  The 8 News NOW I-Team learned the entire exchange was caught on video.

On the video, the 12-year-old girl could be seen in tears as she faced Judge Rena Hughes in Clark County Family Court.  The child was in court because her parents were in the middle of a custody battle.

Judge Hughes decided the girl should go home with her father. 

Girl cries:  "Please!  I don't want to go."|
Judge Hughes: "That's too bad.  This is based on the mother's failure to facilitate visitation and to compel the child to visit with her father.  When your mother was last in court, I told her 'if you didn't go with your dad on weekends, that you would spend the entire summer with him.  And you decided, and your mom decided that you weren't going to go."
Girl:  "No, she didn't decide."

8 News NOW has decided not to release the child or the father's name to protect their identity.

The video obtained by the I-Team does not show the entire hearing.  When the I-team tried to get the full
video, a court spokeswoman said the record was sealed on Oct. 11.

The incident happened on June 15.

Girl:  "Please no," the girl said as she cried.  "I want to be with my mama. Please. I don't want to be with him."
Judge Hughes: "I've made my decision. I've already told you that.
Girl: "I beg of you." 
Judge: "You don't need to beg.  I've made the decision for your best interest." 
Girl: "How do you know my best interest? You don't know me."
Judge: "Because I told you, I'm a grown-up, and you're a child." 
Girl: "Please, please, please, please, please."

I-Team Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "When you looked at the video, what did you think?"
Rebecca Nathanson, UNLV: "I was quite shocked by the video."

Nathanson is an associate dean at UNLV's Boyd School of Law.  She runs a program to help prepare children who may need to appear in court.

"It was shocking to me that a judge would be talking or yelling at a child in that manner and also just not basically letting the child give their statement and their testimony to take under consideration whether it affects their decision or not even if the judge made a decision," said Nathanson.

The I-Team reached out to Judge Hughes but were told she could not comment on the case.  The I-Team was referred to the presiding Judge Charles Hoskin.

Hoskin said he could not comment on the case, and that he had not seen the video.  He said children don't typically come to court for these hearings.

Murphy: "Why did you bring your daughter with you?" 
Welthy Silva, mother of the child: "Because I was told by the court, in the court's letter that I needed to bring her to the court at 1:30 p.m."

Silva showed the I-Team a document stating if she did not bring her daughter to court she could be jailed for 25 days.  Since the case is sealed, 8 News NOW tried to confirm its authenticity.  A court spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny authenticity.

8 News NOW also asked Judge Hoskin about a child advocate and why there wasn't one in the courtroom.  Hoskin said it wasn't the norm for those particular hearings.

Early on in the case, Judge Hughes asked the parents to leave and even said later that the mother would be escorted off of the property.

"I didn't want to leave her there alone," Silva said.  "I had no choice, ya know; whether I wanted to or not." 

The child's father and his attorney declined an on-camera interview.
Silva says she's aware of the video, but it's just too painful to watch.

"Many people may find that video appalling," Nathanson said. "I agree, and that, at the same time, was very, very important to give kids a voice.  Just do it in the right manner."

"I wasn't thrilled about having my daughter exposed like this, but if it can get some justice, if it can save future children from this kind of abuse of power, then so be it," Silva said.

Judge Hoskin says complaints can be made to judicial discipline, while Judge Hughes remains on the bench.

Both parents told the I-Team the child remains in the father's care, but the mother is allowed to have visits with her daughter.

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