Offering no hard data, Judge Sean Hoeffgen this week said he’s finding ways to manage misdemeanor and traffic-related cases as the lone justice for the North Las Vegas Municipal Court.
The municipal bench lost a seat in July as part of a cost-cutting effort by the North Las Vegas City Council to save $365,821 annually on salaries for a judge and an assistant.
The move was also a political rebuke of former Municipal Court Judge Catherine Ramsey, who was barred from seeking re-election last year after admitting to seven charges of unprofessional conduct.
“We’re doing what’s needed to keep the doors open,” Hoeffgen told the North Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday. “We are handling cases the best that we can with the staffing levels that we have.”
During his presentation to the council, Hoeffgen did not specify how many cases he’s handled alone or any cost savings by eliminating the second seat on the municipal bench.
However, the judge said the caseload has “maintained the same level” since December 2016, and that he’s getting help from a part-time judge who assists with overflow cases, holidays and weekends.
Hoeffgen suggested that the council leave the municipal court at a single seat, and promised to provide further updates.
The lack of information upset Anita Wood, a former city councilwoman who voted against the reduction in December 2016.
At the time, Wood cited statistics from the Nevada Judiciary that found North Las Vegas Municipal Court’s two courtrooms handled 3,271 non-traffic cases during the 2015 fiscal year. That’s compared to 3,889 cases that were handled during the same period by six municipal judges in Las Vegas, another 2,018 municipal cases in four courtrooms for Reno and 1,001 cases handled by two judges in Sparks.
“We’re trying to do more than them with just one judge,” Wood told the council. “The impact on the court has to be severe and significant. This is supposed to be saving us money, but there is no piece of paper showing us that.”
Council members Richard Cherchio and Pamela Goynes-Brown closed the discussion by asking Hoeffgen for a follow-up report to determine any cost savings and whether the Municipal Court has a backlog of cases.
It was unclear when Hoeffgen plans to report back to the City Council.