State's chief justice urges changes in court system

CARSON CITY -- Nevada lawmakers were urged Tuesday by Chief Justice James Hardesty to approve measures that would result in major changes in the state's judicial system.

Hardesty asked for Assembly approval of a Senate-endorsed constitutional amendment that would create an intermediate appeals court between the state Supreme Court and Nevada's district courts.

Senate Joint Resolution 9, the proposed constitutional amendment that would create the court, won legislative approval two years ago and must be approved again this session. From there, it would go to voters in 2010 for final approval.

"Nevada is, by far, the largest of the 11 states without an intermediate appellate court," Hardesty said in his State of the Judiciary speech to lawmakers. "It is time for Nevada to take this step."

Hardesty also asked for legislative support for higher fees that would be imposed on civil case filings in Nevada's district courts, saying the fees haven't been increased since 1993 and "in these harsh economic times this is a logical alternative."

The chief justice also urged lawmakers to continue funding for a senior judge program, noting senior judges spent more than 12,000 hours in 2008 conducting settlement conferences, running specialty courts and handling other court duties.

Hardesty also said an advisory commission has suggested that the collection of court-ordered fees, fines and victim restitution be centralized under the high court's Administrative Office of the Courts, and asked for a legislative endorsement of that plan.

He also asked lawmakers to press Nevada's congressional delegation for support of a bill that would let states intercept federal tax refunds of people who haven't paid sums ordered by state courts.

More than 400,000 cases were resolved by Nevada's judiciary in the last fiscal year, Hardesty noted. That included nearly 2,000 matters in the Supreme Court, more than 100,000 cases in district courts and the balance in justice and municipal courts.