Poll: Many oppose plan to allow appointment of judges

Nevadans strongly oppose an upcoming ballot measure that could change the way the state's judges are selected, according to a new poll commissioned by the Review-Journal.

Poll results showed that 59 percent of those surveyed said they would vote against Senate Joint Resolution 2, which will be on the November general election ballot, and 28 percent said they would vote in favor of the resolution. Thirteen percent said they were undecided.

"I don't see anything in these numbers that tells me it has any chance of passing," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C.

The company conducted the poll of 625 registered Nevada voters last Monday through Wednesday. They were told the resolution proposes amending the state constitution.

"Instead of electing judges through a vote of the people, it will allow governors to appoint all judges, including Supreme Court justices, from candidates selected by the Commission on Judicial Selection," respondents were told. "After their initial appointment, these judges and justices would have to stand for 'retention elections' and secure at least 55 percent of the vote to win re-election."

Although Nevada lawyers have shown support for the proposal in recent years, voters rejected similar ballot questions in 1972 and 1988.

"People don't like to give up their right to vote for any politician, whether it be a judge or a dogcatcher," Coker said.

Reno attorney Rew Goodenow, who has practiced law in Nevada for more than 20 years, questioned the accuracy of the Mason-Dixon poll, which had a margin for error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Goodenow supports the resolution and expects it to pass. "The prior measures were very different from this one."

He said those who hear all the facts tend to favor the proposed changes.

The lawyer said the poll question failed to tell respondents that the governor already appoints judges when vacancies occur. He said it also failed to inform them that the resolution creates a Commission on Judicial Performance to review the performance of judges and justices before retention elections.

As president of the State Bar of Nevada at the time, Goodenow authored a "white paper" on the issue after the organization's board of governors voted in March 2007 to advocate support for the resolution.

"Nevada's lawyers, those in the best position to evaluate the day-to-day operations of our courts, strongly believe it is time to change our system," according to the paper.

It cited these benefits provided by the resolution:

■ Elimination of expensive judicial campaigns.

■ More time for judges to resolve disputes and decide cases.

■ Elimination of the influence of money on the resolution of individual disputes in Nevada's courts.

■ Reduction in negative campaigns and negative publicity about Nevada's justice system.

State Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, opposed the resolution.

"I just saw it as a thing that basically puts the judiciary farther out of touch from the people that it serves," he said.

Amodei, a lawyer, said sitting judges still would need to raise some funds to mount retention election campaigns.

He also expressed this concern: "When you're basically running against your own record, I think it makes you more likely to overthink the political ramifications of your decisions."

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.