Judges work on court improvements
Douglas District Court Judges Tod Young and Tom Gregory are focusing on cost-saving in 2017, while keeping a streamlined judicial system efficient and accessible to the people it serves.
The groundwork was laid last year with the addition of private attorney-client rooms outside the courtrooms and the creation of the Department of Court Advocacy. The department oversees programs to assist children and at-risk adults in the court system.
The attorney/client rooms – one outside each district courtroom – offer privacy.
“It used to be that attorneys and their clients could easily be overheard in the hallways,” Young said. “It wasn’t fair or right that people needing to come to court had to discuss their private matters in public hallways. These meeting rooms afford privacy for civil and criminal litigants. In protecting the confidential nature of the attorney-client relationship they also serve to meet the requirements of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to our Constitution.” The entire cost of the rooms was funded out of filing fees which are paid by litigants in civil lawsuits.
Young said consolidating oversight of Court-Appointed Special Advocates with Special Advocates For Elders will save $80,000 annually. Leanne Wagoner, who took over CASA a year ago, is head of the department with a clerical assistant. Other than that administrative oversight, the two programs are staffed by volunteers who receive extensive training in everything from child and elder abuse to early childhood education and guardianships.
For several years Judge Young has been a member of the state Access To Justice Commission. In 2016, he was asked by Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Douglas to head a committee to develop a consistent set of legal forms for all the rural counties. With the help of other members of that committee they have completed a set of forms that self-represented litigants may use throughout the state. One of the goals is to help people who cannot afford an attorney to still have access to the courts and justice.
“I expect that the Supreme Court will be taking those forms and making them available to the public but Judge Gregory and I are also moving ahead with an improved website which will also benefit litigants who choose to, or out of economic circumstances must, represent themselves,” Young said.
Along with the attorney/client rooms, remodeling outside the courtrooms included benches for the public.
“Along with Justice of the Peace Tom Perkins, we purchased some seating for the courthouse waiting area. There were times when we had 30-60 people in the hallway, many of them sitting on the floor because there were not enough chairs. We had benches made through the prison industries program at a very reasonable cost. They are comfortable and will last a long time.”
Statistics released for 2016 indicate an increase in nearly every category of court cases which come before district and justice courts in Douglas County compared to 2015.
For example, 274 non-traffic criminal cases were filed in the Ninth Judicial District Court compared to 158 filed in 2015. Similarly, 516 civil cases were filed compared the 343 for the previous year.
Family court cases jumped to 946 in 2016 from 757 in 2015.
Juvenile non-traffic court cases numbered 69 last year compared to 42 in 2015.
Young was elected this year as chair of the Sierra Region of the Judicial Council of the State of Nevada. Perkins also serves as co-chair.
The Sierra Region includes all judges in the northern rural counties, including Douglas, Lyon, Storey, Churchill counties and Carson City.
“It’s essentially a way for the district judges and justices of the peace to maintain contact with each other and institute a methodology for more collaboration,” Young said.
Last year, Judge Gregory completed a second, required segment training through the National Judicial College in Reno, “Ethics, Fairness and Security in Your Courtroom and Community.”
Other continuing education classes attended by the judges looked at advanced evidence, courtroom security and ethics.
“Both calendars are really busy,” Judge Young said. “I am already scheduling cases in 2018.”
In response to more complex litigation, the court is developing a commercial litigation mediation program.
“It will enable more complex litigation to move a little quicker through the system and eliminate some cost to litigants,” Young said.
The judges have impaneled a Grand Jury for the first time since 2008.
Despite the increased caseload, Young said cases are being moved through the system in “an expeditious way.”
The courts recently filled vacancies for a judicial financial officer and clerks for district court and the two justice courts.
“The judges recognized that the clerks’ office has been short-staffed, yet our clerks have done an absolutely amazing job keeping files up to date and making sure the public is served. They regularly work past 5 and into their lunch hours to make certain that the judges and public are served. We couldn’t ask for a better staff,” Young said.