Judge rejects troopers' objections to new inquest process

A judge on Thursday rejected a legal attempt by five Nevada Highway Patrol troopers to stop the revamped coroner's inquest from going forward.

In her 30-page ruling, District Judge Joanna Kishner ruled the coroner's inquest, a public fact-finding hearing into police-related deaths, was constitutional and could continue.

Her decision marked the first victory for Clark County officials facing two legal challenges against the new inquest process. An earlier legal challenge by three Las Vegas police officers remains tied up in federal court.

County officials changed the inquest a year ago following two controversial Las Vegas police shootings, but because of the time taken to revamp the process and the legal challenges, the county hasn't held an inquest since October 2010, leaving a backlog of 15 cases.

In their lawsuits filed in September, troopers Brittany Burtner, Jorge Hernandez, Kevin McNeal, Heather Neely and Scott Simon asked a judge to stop their upcoming inquest on constitutional grounds.

The troopers were involved in the August 2010 death of Eduardo Lopez-Hernandez, a motorist who fought with them on U.S. Highway 95.

They argued the process violated their constitutional rights and turned a fact-finding hearing into an adversarial one with the addition of an ombudsman who represents the family of the person killed .

They also said it violated the separation of constitutional powers because it seemed to allow the judge overseeing the inquest to be involved in the investigation, a function of the executive branch.

Kishner agreed with the last point but said the inquest ordinance passed constitutional muster by removing one sentence. She also dismissed any due process concerns, saying any potential harm to the troopers was only speculative and couldn't be considered.