The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline should decide whether judges are removed from office — not a recall effort, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In making the decision, the high court ruled for the first time on the question of whether the state’s constitutional provision providing for the recall of “public officers” applies to judges.
“Even if the recall of public officers provision is interpreted to include judges, we conclude that the voters’ subsequent approval of the system for judicial discipline, which plainly grants the Commission the exclusive authority to remove a judge from office with only one exception, the legislative power of impeachment, supersedes any provision that would allow for judges to be recalled by other means,” Justice James Hardesty wrote in the majority opinion.
The decision was handed down in the case of former North Las Vegas Municipal Judge Catherine Ramsey, who had appealed a District Court ruling that allowed a recall effort to move forward with an attempt to remove her.
“Even if judges originally could be recalled, Ramsey argues that the creation of the Commission in 1976 superseded any such recall authority over judges,” Hardesty wrote. “We agree.”
Chief Justice Michael Cherry, along with Justices Mark Gibbons and Ron Parraguirre, concurred.
In the midst of her appeal, Ramsey was barred from seeking re-election and suspended without pay for the final three months of her term after admitting to charges of professional misconduct. The city of North Las Vegas eliminated Ramsey’s seat, and her term expires on June 30.
Justice Kristina Pickering argued in her dissent that while the decision may be moot in Ramsey’s case, it has “enduring significance … to our constitutional form of government.” Justice Michael Douglas agreed.
Pickering wrote, “Nevada voters have the power to recall an elected judge. … The conflict the majority contrives between citizen recall and Commission discipline is just that: contrived. Nothing — not text, context, history, the ballot materials the voters received, or the pronouncements of this court and Nevada’s lead constitutional scholars — supports that our citizens gave up the right to recall judges when they approved the creation of the Judicial Discipline Commission.”
Attorney Craig Mueller, who represented Ramsey in the appeal, called both the ruling and dissent “well-reasoned.”
“It’s one of those cases where reasonable minds can disagree,” he said.
Mike Yarter, who helped launch Ramsey’s recall effort and is president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, sided with the dissenting opinion.
“We’re not saying that a judge has to commit an ethics violation to be recalled,” he said. “What if we’re just not happy with the rulings from the bench? Voters have been handed a great disservice today. … If judges are to be elected in Nevada, they should have to follow the same rules as everyone else who is elected to office. Otherwise, why are we electing judges?”
Justice Lidia Stiglich, who was appointed in November, did not participate in the ruling.
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