The biggest obstacle to speedy justice in Nevada may be our own voters. In the general election voters will consider Question 1, a statewide ballot measure to amend the state constitution to create a court of appeals.
There’s unusual consensus among the powers that be, in all three branches of government, in the legal community, labor and business, lions and lambs, it’s time for Nevada to have an appeals court. The challenge is to convince voters who often vote kneejerk “no” to any ballot measure.
Using the theme “justice delayed is justice denied,” the distinguished organizing committee includes Nevada Supreme Court Justice Hardesty who is pushing hard to reach voters throughout the state who may not realize how an appeals court could make a positive difference to ordinary citizens.
As Justice Hardesty explained at Monday night’s League of Women Voters election forum at the Carson Community Center, any decision by a district court can be appealed. Right now, all appeals are only handled by the seven Supreme Court justices. As a result, Nevada’s Supreme Court currently has the highest case load per justice of any state Supreme Court in the country, including the 10 states where there’s no intermediate appeals court. Each of our seven justices has a workload of 357 cases per year.
Now, in Nevada’s 150th year of statehood, our State Supreme Court is at the limit of its capacity. Our highest court shoulders a 21st century case load, limited by a 19th century operating system — the Nevada constitution. Justice Hardesty told the League of Women Voters audience the high court is working efficiently and using fast-track techniques where possible. But efficiencies are not enough to mitigate the increasing volume of cases and resulting backlog and delays.
Question 1 proposes to establish a Court of Appeals to rule on district court appeals of a more routine nature including appeals of divorce decrees, prisoner appeals about food and clothing, driver’s license revocations, construction defect appeals, and other (un)civil matters. The intermediate court would receive its case load through the “push-down method,” with cases referred by the high court for resolution at the appeals court level. The idea is to have speedier justice, reduce wait times for hearings and decisions, and use the Supreme Court for matters of interpretation of laws and regulations.
Instead of creating another layer of government, this proposal will serve to streamline a clogged and overloaded system. Funding for staff comes out of the Nevada Supreme Court’s existing budget; no additional funds are being requested for operation and maintenance. The appeals court would operate out of existing facilities in Carson City and Las Vegas.
It’s long past time for Nevada to have a court of appeals. Passage of Question 1 would be a fitting and lasting gift for Nevada’s 150th birthday, a change in the state’s justice system that will prove its worth and endurance into the next century.
For the language and arguments for and against Question 1, access the League of Women Voters of Northern Nevada Voter’s Guide at www.lwvnn.org. For information from the committee promoting Question 1, the web address is: www.nvcourtofappeals.com.
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.