Gavel Unravel: Appellate Court Proposal in Nevada

What do Delaware, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming have in common?  Ans: None of these states have an intermediate appellate court.

Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty is now among those advocating for the latest proposal to incorporate an intermediate court into the Nevada judicial system. [LVRJ]  What’s different this time,  different from the last time Nevada voters rejected an intermediate court plan in 2010?   The 2014 proposal is a “push down” system, in which all cases on appeal go to the Nevada Supreme Court but cases such as appeals of driver’s licenses revocation and inmate writs of habeas corpus could be sent (pushed down) to the appeals court.

The problem is essentially a numbers game. There are approximately 2,200 cases coming to the Nevada Supreme Court each year, and some 733 of these fall into categories that would be under the jurisdiction of the appeals court.  Each Nevada Supreme Court judge is now handling an average of 333 cases (2013 figures) which is about 100 more than is recommended by the American Bar Association. [LVRJ] Under the latest proposal the Supreme Court would be taking on 1467 cases per year, or 209 cases per judge per year.

When Question 2 came to the voters in 2010 the results were closer than might have been expected, 313,769 voted “yes,” while 53.8% or 356,356 voted “no” on the appeals court creation. [Bllped]  Opponents argued there might be a need for an appeals court, but “There may be a need for an appellate court, but now is not the time fiscally. There is no way to create an entire separate level of courts without creating funding to support it on the taxpayers’ dime down the line.” [RGJ]

The funding question appears to be answered for the moment, with the appellate court needing about $800,000 in start up funds, and about $1.3 million per year for operations. [LVS] And, the support is bipartisan with both Republican Governor Sandoval and Democratic Attorney General Masto both advocating the new system.

Before anyone jumps on that rather tired “Taxpayer Dime” argument once more, consider the costs for Nevada citizens and businesses if nothing is done.

Under the current system it is taking about two years from the time an appeal is filed until the Nevada Supreme Court issues a response. [LVRJ]  That’s two years worth of an attorney on retainer, two years worth of waiting for a decision, two years worth of unnecessary delay – and the old saw is true: Justice delayed is justice denied.

There are some important cases coming before the Supreme Court this term, one is a 2013 Lincoln County case of child sexual abuse one of the central questions of which is does the defense have the right to demand an independent psychological examination of the victim(s)? [63563] In Hallenback v. Hallenback the Nevada Supreme Court is asked to decide if in a community property state one person is entitled to a full pension earned while separated from the other spouse.  In Slade v. Caesars Entertainment the court is asked to decide if an eviction from one casino property (in this case Mississippi) means a person is prohibited from attending any event in any other property owned by the casino corporation. The corporation has been involved in this litigation since March 2013.   These and other decisions pertain to civil liberties for both individuals and businesses, [NVSC] and should not have to compete with the justices’ time amid disputes over the revocation of driver’s licenses and inmate habeas corpus filings.

On the other hand it can be argued that a person who feels his or her driver’s license has been unfairly revoked, or an inmate who sincerely believes his habeas corpus rights have been violated, shouldn’t have to wait for a decision while cases involving community property, multi-state casino operations, and defense rights in important prosecutions, etc.  take up more of the court’s time.

Neither the aggrieved driver’s license litigant nor the multi-state casino corporation is well served by having a prolonged wait for the adjudication of their complaints, and there are costs associated with both kinds of cases, certainly beyond the cost of judicial operations and administration.  To argue that the state “can’t afford” to expand its judiciary because it might “ride on the Taxpayers’ dime” is also to contend that citizens and businesses in this state will have to spend more of their income and resources on delayed litigation and adjudication in a truncated system.

Or to put it more simply – it makes fiscal and judicial sense to adopt the appeals court proposal.

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