Bully on the bench? That's what a district court judge is being called after a controversial video surfaces from Family Court.
Contact 13 investigates the disturbing way a mom says a judge ripped her family apart.
The heart-wrenching reality is a young girl just wants to stay with her mother. But in shocking video we get an inside look into Clark County Family Court that few see and fewer will believe.
For three years since her divorce, Welthy has danced with her daughter at the ballet studio she owns. Now she's forced to dance alone.
"My daughter was not listened to, her voice was not heard. She was just treated appallingly by Rena Hughes. And no child should ever suffer that."
"If you have any difficulties, [the child] will go to Child Haven," Judge Rena Hughes is heard saying in the video from a June hearing. Then the judge address the child. "It's not fun in Child Haven. In fact they put you in a holding cell. Just like it would be jail."
Since the young girl's parents divorce three years ago, her mother has had primary custody. But Judge Hughes took that away giving sole custody to her father instead.
Child: "Can I please see my mom?"
Judge: "You already saw her. She just left."
Child: "You don't understand. I love her. And I'm gonna miss her so much. Please don't do this to me."
Contact 13 talked with the girl's mother, Welthy. "She's such a bully. She's horrible," Welthy says. "My daughter was not listened to, her voice was not heard."
In this June hearing, Judge Hughes clears all adults out of the courtroom, keeping the girl inside alone. Then there's a nine-minute gap in the video.
"This is kind of reminiscent of those situations that give people pause," says Jeff Stempel, professor of Judicial Ethics at UNLV's Boyd School of Law, "when a police officer's camera mysteriously stops during a crucial part of an arrest where something goes wrong."
He says it's unusual, but not unheard of, for a judge to talk to a child alone.
"The one-sided representation and the exclusion of the mother -- that I think almost everybody would agree is inappropriate judicial behavior," Stempel says.
There was another exchange in the courtroom when the girl's mother wasn't allowed back in.
Child: "I beg of you!"
Judge Hughes: "You don't need to beg. I've made a decision for your best interest."
Child: "How would 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."
We reached out to the girl's father who refused to talk about the case. But he did post a comment on YouTube under the court video, writing "I'm not happy about this situation and the way the judge handled this matter..."
Contact 13 learned the case was sealed soon after the video was leaked.
"Which is also unusual and out of the ordinary," Stempel says. "I don't seem to see any justification for it."
And Welthy sees no justification for the court to put her daughter through such distress, her pleas seemingly falling on deaf ears.
Judge Rena Hughes declined to comment, but a Family Court spokesperson sent the following statement:
A request for comment on a sealed case is not appropriate. The Nevada Supreme Court Rules Governing Sealing and Redacting Court Records give parties the right to keep the details of their civil domestic actions from the public. The Court understands that rule and respects those rights.
"A judge shall not make any public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court, or make any nonpublic statement that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing." Given that the requested case is still pending, it would also be a violation of Judicial Canons to discuss the details of that ongoing case.
As a result, the request for an interview regarding the aforementioned case must be denied.
Divorce and custody cases are often complicated, emotional and highly contentious matters. The Family Division of the Eighth Judicial District Court takes their sworn duties very seriously. No judge goes through the extremely difficult process of obtaining this position for the purpose of harming children.
To the contrary, serving the best interests of children is paramount to every decision a Family Division Judge makes involving children. The Court carefully considers all the facts presented prior to rendering each decision.
In rendering those decisions, it is possible that one party, or sometimes both parties, may be unhappy with the ruling made by the Court. If either party believes the Court make an error, they have the ability to seek appropriate relief from the Nevada Supreme Court.