Opportunity to move Judicial Discipline Commission has passed

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline will be looking for a new general counsel and executive director when David Sarnowski retires June 30, and the pay is a not-to-be-sneered-at $137,145, plus state benefits.

Plenty of Las Vegas lawyers might find that job worth seeking.

However, the office is in Carson City.

For decades, certain lawmakers have argued this office should be located in Las Vegas.

In the 1990s, when Chris Giunchigliani, now Clark County commissioner, was in the Assembly, she wanted the small office moved south. “Not every agency should be moved, but certain ones, including the Judicial Discipline Commission, should be here,” she said. “Where are the majority of courts? Where are the majority of attorneys? Where do the majority of the judiciary live? Here.”

As a state senator, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin wanted to see the office moved to Las Vegas as part of his broader philosophy of bringing state government to where the population is. “In a system where judges are elected, you’ve got to know the players and the pressure they face,” he said.

The idea is one the Judicial Discipline Commission could and should consider, but my suggestion is coming too late.

Such a move would require a two-year planning process, Sarnowski said. Any move couldn’t be coordinated with his retirement because the costs of a move would have to be built into the pending annual budget of roughly $648,000, and it’s too late for that.

On Feb. 22, Sarnowski told legislators he would be retiring June 30 after nearly 32 years with the state, according to a Las Vegas Sun news story.

He told me Wednesday that date has nothing to do with the June 24 hearing involving Family Court Judge Steven Jones, especially because that hearing may be postponed. Jones wants the Discipline Commission action to trail his criminal case in federal court, now set for August.

While it seems as if the big cases such as those against Jones, Elizabeth Halverson, Fran Fine and others are based in Southern Nevada, my review of the number of cases made public over the past 10 years showed seven involved Southern Nevada judges and the other eight involved judges in Northern Nevada and rural Nevada.

There were 103 complaints received in 2011 alone. Because of the secrecy governing the commission, the public doesn’t know the resolution unless charges are filed.

Have commissioners considered moving the office? District Judge Mark Denton, a commission member, replied, “I don’t think that’s come up.

“For me, it doesn’t seem to be a problem” that the commission’s small office is based in Carson City, Denton said. The commissioners meet about four times a year in various places and use teleconferencing. Critics say more frequent meetings might move cases along more promptly.

“The only advantage I can conceive at this time, without a whole lot of reflection, is that it (moving the office) would open it up to a broader spectrum of applicants because there are so many more attorneys down here,” said Las Vegas attorney Don Campbell, a former member of the commission.

Frank Cremen, a defense attorney who has been hired by the commission to prosecute judicial discipline cases, including those against Gary Davis and Fine, said “it would make sense, and a wise move financially” to move the office south.

Leonard Gang, the general counsel and executive director between 1994 and 2000, said when Giunchigliani asked him more than 20 years ago about moving, that it was something that has to be looked at in the future, depending on the workload and where the workload was.

The workload is here and now. But the opportunity has been missed.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0275.