Clark County District Court officials on Monday will begin unprecedented courtroom sharing for civil cases at the overcrowded Regional Justice Center to accommodate the addition of seven newly elected judges.
The new judicial positions, which increase the number of district judges to 32, were created by the 2009 Legislature to help courthouse officials deal with an overwhelming civil case load.
Chief Judge-elect Jennifer Togliatti said it takes 34 to 36 months to resolve an average civil case that goes to trial in Las Vegas, which is double the 18-month time standard set by the American Bar Association.
Broad-based courtroom sharing is expected to be in place over the next 18 months while eight new courtrooms and office space are built on the third and fourth floors of the 17-story Regional Justice Center, Togliatti said.
The space on those floors became available after the courts went paperless last year in civil cases and no longer needed to store massive amounts of records in the building.
The seven new judges, who are picking up civil cases from the current judges, will have to maintain their chambers at the county-owned Clark Building across the street during the construction, which is expected to start in the fall of 2011 and be completed by mid-2012.
About 100 employees of the third-floor clerk’s office also have moved to the Clark Building. The clerk’s office will remain open to the public at the Regional Justice Center during the construction.
Togliatti said the courts have been planning for the new judges to come on board for the past year and everyone is aware that sacrifices will have to be made in the interim to achieve the greater goal of reducing the disposition time for civil cases.
Unclogging the courts is an “absolute necessity,” she said.
“This is a major change. Change is good if it benefits the public, which I think this will.”
Togliatti said the biggest impact of courtroom sharing each day will be on the lawyers who must argue civil motions before the new judges.
She acknowledged that there will be some confusion at first.
“Lawyers are used to one judge, one courtroom,” Togliatti said. “We’ll have to change that mindset. They’re going to have to put up with our growing pains, and hopefully, we can make this as easy as possible.”
Court officials put out a schedule on Thursday for lawyers detailing which courtrooms the new civil judges will be using for their normal morning motion calendars. Each judge is set to hear cases in different courtrooms on the same floor.
Officials also put up signs in the lobby of the Regional Justice Center to remind lawyers and members of the public coming to court next week to check the daily docket monitors for their correct judge and courtroom.
“The goal is to make sure the lawyers don’t have to go searching all over the building to find one of the new judges to hear their motions,” said District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who oversees all civil matters. “It’s going to take a lot of cooperation between the judges and our staffs, but I think it’s a plan that can work.”
Chuck Short, the former longtime chief court executive who helped plan the Regional Justice Center, said the courts would not be in this position had the county approved the building’s original design in 1999 that called for an additional floor. The extra floor was eliminated because the county wanted to save the $3 million in construction costs.
As a result, Short said, officials knew ahead of time that the Regional Justice Center would reach its capacity by 2007. What officials didn’t count on were construction delays that pushed back the building’s opening from 2002 to 2005, Short said.
The Regional Justice Center, which ultimately hit taxpayers with millions of dollars in unplanned construction costs, is now the county’s most traveled building. It also houses Las Vegas Justice Court, Las Vegas Municipal Court, the Nevada Supreme Court, the district attorney’s office and the city attorney’s office.
Contact Jeff German at
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