Judge's methods reviewed

CARSON CITY -- Nevada Supreme Court justices expressed disbelief Tuesday that District Judge Jackie Glass blocks public defenders from challenging her decisions on whether defendants are mentally competent to stand trial.

Public defenders Christy Craig and Howard Brooks told justices that the Las Vegas judge does not let them submit "psych evaluations" from their doctors that they say refute doctors she has appointed to decide whether defendants are competent to stand trial.

Glass operates the District Court's twice-a-week competency court.

Brooks said she refuses even to let defense attorneys read the entire evaluations the court-appointed doctors have prepared. Instead, Glass releases one-page summaries of their findings, he said.

"We are told we can't have the underlying data even if we file a motion" for a full competency hearing, Brooks said.

"Judge Glass will not let us talk to the docs," Craig added. "She says that is the way it should be done."

While justices did not make an immediate decision on whether Glass' approach meets state laws, most raised questions about her methods.

Justice Jim Hardesty wondered whether any other court in the state handles competency issues the way Glass does. Hardesty said her method was not the one used when he was a Washoe County judge.

Hardesty read aloud a message that Glass sent to Brooks in which she said she would not consider "their reports period."

The justice also said he could not read a summary psych evaluation submitted to the court because the doctor's writing was illegible and full of unusual abbreviations.

Craig contended it was important for the public defenders to be able to contact the doctors in case they could not read or understand the summaries.

But Deputy Clark County District Attorney James Sweetin said to "insure neutrality" Glass relies on the psych evaluations of court-appointed doctors. Sweetin said prosecutors also cannot see the complete evaluations.

He said public defenders can file motions for full competency hearings before Glass.

"But they say they don't take place," Justice Michael Douglas said.

"They do take place," Sweetin replied, mentioning that he appeared in some of the hearings with Craig.

Before the competency court was created, criminal defendants remained in jail for months trying to get an evaluation on whether they could stand trial.

Earlier this year, Glass said the competency court has reduced those waiting times dramatically.

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said earlier this year he was concerned that Glass was sacrificing the constitutional rights of defendants in exchange for court efficiency.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.