Budget-cutting personnel shortages have forced Las Vegas Justice Court officials to close the clerk's office to the public all next week to catch up processing a two-month backlog of cases.
Chief Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman broke the news of the unprecedented weeklong closing in an e-mail sent throughout the Clark County judicial system late last week. Signs informing the public were posted at the clerk's office on the second floor of the Regional Justice Center and elsewhere in the well-traveled building.
The clerk's office will reopen to the public on Jan. 3.
Because of the backlog, Zimmerman explained, the clerk's office has not been accepting new civil complaints since Dec. 10. Justice Court handles lawsuits involving monetary disputes under $10,000.
Typical cases include complaints filed by collection agencies and credit card and payday loan companies pursuing debts, businesses seeking unpaid bills for services provided to homeowners and property damage claims from people involved in auto accidents.
"We are trying as hard as we can to provide excellent customer service," Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa said on Monday. "But we're frustrated in accomplishing that because of the shortages."
According to Zimmerman, Justice Court's Civil Division is short six clerk positions that have gone unfilled "for a long time" because of budget cuts within the financially strapped county. The ongoing transition to a new computerized case management system has made it even more difficult to eliminate the backlog of cases, Zimmerman wrote.
Court officials said the problem has been compounded further by daily long lines of people waiting to file court papers. Officials have had to take clerks away from processing court papers to ease the burden at the public windows.
The wait time for people in line to file papers just before the 3 p.m. closing on Monday was more than two hours, officials said.
Saragosa, the vice chief justice of the peace, said the weeklong closing of the clerk's office will likely be a temporary fix unless the vacant positions are filled.
"I believe it will be an ongoing battle if we don't get additional staff," Saragosa said. "We just need more people. I don't know any other way to say it."
Saragosa said it has been "overwhelming" for the current staff to deal with the mass of paperwork flowing into the office.
"The staff is working as hard as they possibly can," she said. "But it seems like the pile of things to do never decreases. They always have this feeling of taking one step forward and moving two steps backward."
Court officials said they tried to make a dent in the backlog by changing some work shifts and even authorizing overtime for clerks on occasion.
Since Nov. 1, the clerk's office has closed an hour early at 3 p.m. so that employees at the windows serving the public can help process the flood of court papers, officials said.
But in the end, all of those efforts have "proven to be inadequate," Zimmerman wrote in her e-mail.
Contact reporter Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.