Supreme Court justice pushes for better security

CARSON CITY — Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty made the high court’s case for enhanced security Wednesday, telling lawmakers there are serious security issues not being addressed with the current limited protection by Capitol Police.

“We receive lots of interesting mail and other issues that we have to deal with,” he told a joint Ways and Means and Senate Finance subcommittee reviewing the court’s two-year budget proposal.

The court has held off making a formal security request for three sessions, Hardesty told lawmakers.

“But enough is enough,” he said. “And the security threats are real. We need to deal with this issue.”

The only enhancement to Supreme Court security occurred in July when justices hired their own chief of police, who provides limited protection when justices travel for hearings outside of Carson City.

Hardesty said other than that limited protection, the seven justices have no security when they leave the Capitol Complex or the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas. The court contracts security with court marshals at the justice center.

“We are not accompanied anywhere we go,” he said. “We are not accompanied to the airport; we’re not accompanied to a restaurant. Not that any of us have requested that, by the way. The justices themselves have not been requesting that we have a bunch of security officers following us around. Although I will tell you that it would be useful at times.”

The proposed Supreme Court budget would eliminate the approximately 1.5 equivalent positions provided now by the Capitol Police.

Instead, the court has requested about $430,000 for 2.5 security positions. The officers would work under the justices’ direct supervision.

“We’re supposed to have three officers through Capitol Police, and we have not had that,” Hardesty said.

The Capitol Police costs charged to the court are about $167,000 a year.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has included the request in his proposed budget.

Hardesty said security has been an issue since 2009 when the Capitol Police reduced its security for the court without notice in response to budget cuts.

There are two shifts, overlapping several hours, where officers monitor video cameras from the second floor, he said. But the main public access is on the first floor, where there is no security to protect the law librarian, Hardesty said. The first floor access had to be closed in 2009 because of the security concerns, he said.

There has been some criticism of the court’s security proposal.

“Now it’s been kind of interesting when this subject came up; ‘oh the Supreme Court wants its own police force,’ ” Hardesty said. “No, the Supreme Court wants adequate security. So if that can be handled by providing a security staff that has the same duties and responsibilities as your security people provide you, sign us up for that. We’d be delighted. But our experience for six or seven years is contrary.”

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, a member of the subcommittee, said the testimony from Hardesty and Chief Justice Kris Pickering was compelling.

“I think this committee needs to address this issue; this is a serious issue,” he said.

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