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At home in the courtroom

Elko attorney Nancy Porter laughs as she discusses her new position. Porter recently made history by being appointed the first female district judge in Elko County.

ELKO — Nancy Porter is making history.

The mantra “women can do anything” is something she has proven. Porter was appointed as the Department 1 Elko District Court judge. In Elko County’s history, a female has never stepped into this role.

With her new position, Porter is carrying on a long-standing family tradition in Elko County — making a difference.

Her father Dale Porter, who died in early 2011, was a two-term city councilman and three-term county commissioner. He was instrumental in the development of the South Fork Reservoir, acting as chairman of that project for 18 years, which meant countless volunteer hours.

“South Fork Reservoir would not be here without him,” Porter said. “I want to carry on that tradition here. I can’t imagine doing this job anywhere but here.”

Although stepping into the role of judge is a proud moment, it comes with a touch of sadness because her father isn’t here to share it with her.

“My family, my father’s friends and my friends have all been sure to point out to me that he’s proud of me,” Porter said.

Porter was born and raised in Elko. Her father moved to Elko when he was 16 years old and her mother, Janet Strickland, is an Elko native.

“To marry and have children during all of this is not an easy feat for any woman who knows what it’s like to work and have children and raise them and have a career,” Strickland said of her daughter. “You have to remain dedicated and focused on what you’re doing.”

Having a solid support system has helped. With three children, Porter’s husband Jeff Hanley assumes responsibilities in the home.

“He keeps the home fires burning so I can do what I do to support our family, and he’s been very supportive of my decision to pursue this,” she said.

The law profession piqued Porter’s interest at a young age. Her mother worked as a legal secretary starting in the late 1950s before working as a judicial administrator under district judges Joseph McDaniel and Jack Ames at the Elko County Courthouse.

“From the time she was a little girl she was very focused on what she wanted to accomplish in life,” Strickland said. “She just has worked very hard.”

Porter became familiar with the inside of the Elko County Courthouse long before Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed her to the judicial position, where she will replace Mike Memeo, who retired Nov. 1.

It was Porter’s mom who first led her to the inside of a courtroom.

When Porter was 4 years old, Strickland took her daughter to see her father testify in a case overseen by Judge Taylor Wines. It is this courtroom Porter will now be in charge of.

During college, Porter worked as the courthouse gardener during the summer months. When the janitor would take vacation, Porter would spend the days cleaning the courtroom she will now run.

After learning of her appointment, Porter went to her mom’s house to share the news.

“I just looked at her and she said ‘I did it,’” Strickland said “We just hugged. I felt so strongly that she would get it.”

It only took until Porter’s sophomore year of college to know law was a career she was going to pursue. After obtaining her degrees, she spent three years garnering legal experience before she accepted a position at Puccinelli & Puccinelli in 1991.

Andrew Puccinelli was the Department 2 district court judge until he died in early August after a battle with cancer. Although Porter only worked at the Puccinelli law firm for two years, the two remained friends for the past 20.

“He was a terrific judge and he is a role model for me as a judge,” Porter said. “He was always prepared. He had read the file, he researched the law, he knew what was going on and I want to do that just as he did.”

Puccinelli established the Adult Drug Court program during his time in district court, and was in the process of securing funding for a Family Drug Court. The funding has since come through, Porter said.

“That’s funding for parents whose children are in the custody of the state that have drug problems and they would be able to participate in drug court to help them sober up and get their children back,” she said.

The Family Drug Court is but one program Porter will look at as a district judge.

Porter has also begun to research programs to curb domestic violence. She feels the district court can do more to tackle the community-wide issue. 

Domestic violence came to the forefront for Porter this past year when Elko resident Mary Inman was murdered at the age of 42 by her ex-husband in April. Inman was a client of Porter’s at the time. 

“That was a turning point for me. We’ve had all the successive, alleged murders still to be proven if they were domestic violence, but it’s all been a real wake up call for me and I think our district court system can do more,” Porter said.

She said if there are allegations of domestic violence, the district court should become involved right away.

“We’ll have jurisdiction over those people at that point to get them into programs — both the perpetrator and the victim and children if they’re involved,” she said. “My experience so far has been that through the district court there really hasn’t been anything like that.”

Porter has been researching a domestic violence program in Santa Clara County, Calif., as well as a judicial group in Reno. She said she would like to work with Al Kacin, who was appointed to the Department 2 position that was held by Puccinelli, in an effort to implement a domestic violence program.

Prior to beginning her new career as district court judge she has been working to ensure the clients with her attorney practice are taken care of.

“I’ve had this business for 18 years and some clients I’ve had for 20 years and a lot for 10-12 years, and it will be really hard to leave those people,” she said.

Although she will miss her clients and helping them the best she can, the prospect of aiding people on a larger scale is something Porter is looking forward to.

“If I can get this domestic violence program off the ground instead of helping people one at a time, it will be on a bigger scale and serving the people of the county,” she said.

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Porter will be sworn in at 4 p.m. Jan. 13 in the Department I courtroom by Senior Judge Jack Ames.

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