Jim Clark: The need for a Nevada appeals court
Did you ever wonder why it took years for the Village League to Save Incline Assets to prove unconstitutional assessment methods by the prior Washoe County assessor and get Incline/Crystal Bay homeowners our tax rebate checks?
One reason is the crowded docket of the Nevada Supreme Court.
In an effort to reduce this judicial congestion the Nevada Senate last session passed Senate Joint Resolution No. 14, which would provide for an intermediate court of appeal, similar to the federal court system and a majority of states.
SJR No. 14 would amend the Nevada Constitution; therefore if it is to become law, the measure must also be approved by Nevada voters in the 2014 general election.
Earlier this month Incline/Crystal Bay Republican Advocates gathered to hear a presentation on the measure by Incline Justice Court Judge Alan Tiras.
Judge Tiras utilized a Power Point presentation prepared by Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty as well as his own input and sought to explain why a Nevada court of appeals is needed, how it will operate and what it will cost.
The need for such a court is exemplified by the saying: “Justice delayed is justice denied,” first expressed in ancient Jewish law, later in the Magna Carta and more recently attributed to William Penn and British Prime Minster Gladstone.
The point is that court congestion works a hardship. Incline/Crystal Bay homeowners certainly know that, but at least we weren’t sitting in jail waiting for an answer.
Business also suffers from litigation delays. Any appeal of a Nevada trial court decision goes directly to Nevada’s Supreme Court; as a result that entity has the highest per justice caseload in the U.S. and it’s getting worse.
Nevada is the most populous state in the U.S. without a court of appeals, and the Silver State’s continued population growth will only exacerbate the problem.
In many states as well as in the federal system courts of appeals are a way stop on the path to a supreme court and therefore of doubtful value in easing congestion.
SJR No. 14 proposes a “push down” model in which all appeals would continue to go to the Supreme Court which would in turn delegate routine cases to the appeals court for final adjudication.
Costs are expected to be under $2 million per year, partially offset by filing fees, because existing court facilities in Carson City and Las Vegas could house the appeals court.
Initially judges would be appointed by the governor and subsequently be elected statewide for six-year terms.
During the question and answer period it became evident that the audience thought the sticking point in the proposal was Section 4 which assigns the delegation process to Supreme Court justices rather than being fixed by law, thereby leaving wiggle room for bureaucratic expansion.
In Utah and Arkansas, for example, courts of appeals hear specific kinds of cases as fixed by those states’ laws so jurisdiction (and consequently costs) do not expand and contract at the whim of their respective Supreme Court justices.
As SJR No. 14 winds its way toward the November 2014 ballot, it appears that its supporters will have their hands full convincing cost-conscious voters that the measure is sufficiently precise to avoid the risk of bureaucratic expansion once enacted.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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