Lawyers have a clear opinion about the Nevada Supreme Court: One of the justices is not like the others.
Justice Nancy Saitta received by far a lower retention rating than any of her peers in the 2008 Judicial Performance Evaluation survey, winning the approval of only 45 percent of respondents.
The next lowest retention rating belonged to Justice James Hardesty, who scored 26 points higher than Saitta. All the justices but Saitta got retention scores in the 70s and 80s. The average retention score for the seven justices, including Saitta, was 74 percent.
Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, the only justice running for re-election this year, led the pack with an 86 percent retention score, the same total he got two years ago. Retiring Justice William Maupin was a close second with an 84 percent favorable rating.
Lawyers were asked to rate justices "more than adequate," "adequate," or "less than adequate" on nine job-related attributes ranging from application of the law to courteousness. For every justice except Saitta, the lawyers' ratings averaged more than 50 percent "more than adequate." But in Saitta's case, the average score was only 32 percent "more than adequate," and 33 percent "less than adequate."
Saitta, who didn't respond to written questions about her performance evaluation, saw a precipitous decline in her results compared to two years ago, when she was a Clark County district judge.
In 2006, 70 percent of respondents favored retaining her. Later that year, she won a six-year term to the Supreme Court, ousting then-Chief Justice Nancy Becker in a bitter and expensive race.
Of more than 300 attorneys who evaluated Saitta, the largest number rated her most deficient in the area of properly applying the law. Five out of seven justices got their lowest marks in this category, while two were criticized most often for having a perceived bias toward parties or attorneys in a case.
Saitta, the only woman on the state's highest court, was scolded by some attorneys for recent extra-judicial missteps.
In written comments, several attorneys chastised Saitta for inflating her academic credentials on an election Web site. Saitta listed herself as having been an associate professor in political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas when, in reality, she was a part-time instructor at the university.
"When her résumé is stripped of falsehoods, there is nothing left but her robe," one lawyer wrote.
Some lawyers questioned Saitta's legal competence, but none cited specific rulings that bothered them.
In contrast to their comments about Saitta, lawyers were profuse in their praise of Gibbons.
One wrote, Gibbons is "always very prepared, thoughtful, smart and on top of both the issues and the record. One of the best Supreme Court justices that we have ever had in this state."
Gibbons, in an interview, said he was pleased about his positive evaluation.
"I look at it as a vote of confidence from the people who responded," he said.
Last year was an active one for the state Supreme Court, especially with respect to the creation of special commissions.
The court formed panels to examine policies for sealing some civil court records from public view and to study public defender systems in the state. The work of both commissions led to state Supreme Court orders that mandated changes to the status quo.
The state Supreme Court also amended rules to ban judicial candidates without opposition from collecting campaign contributions. This step was taken after the Legislature moved up the filing period for most judicial candidates to the first two weeks in January.
Looking ahead, Gibbons said he hoped to continue working to bolster public confidence in the judiciary.
"We want to make the court more user-friendly and responsive to the public," Gibbons said.
Contact reporter Alan Maimon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0404.