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North Las Vegas considers cutting municipal court down to 1 judge

The municipal judge’s bench in North Las Vegas could be cut in half.

The North Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will consider whether to eliminate the seat currently held by Municipal Court Judge Catherine Ramsey, who was barred from seeking re-election next year after admitting to seven charges of professional misconduct.

If approved, that would leave only one judge to hear misdemeanor and traffic-related cases in North Las Vegas beginning July 1, when Ramsey’s current term expires.

“There’s no need for two municipal court departments,” North Las Vegas Assistant City Manager Ryann Juden said.

“First, our caseloads are down from the time that the second courtroom was created,” Juden said. “Second, the fact that we have an incumbent judge who is barred from running again gave us the unique opportunity to look at getting rid of that seat.”

North Las Vegas Municipal Court handled 46,338 misdemeanor, traffic and parking cases in 2005, when a second judge was added to the bench. Cases steadily built up, peaking at 63,696 in 2009.

After that, North Las Vegas Municipal Court’s caseload steadily declined each year, dipping down to 25,439 cases in 2015, according the latest figures provided by city officials.

If the second bench is terminated, the city would see $365,821 in immediate savings from salaries for the judge and an assistant, according to a city report that said the move was “financially prudent and in the best interest of the city and the public.”

But the issue goes deeper than cost savings and caseloads.

In a settlement reached in August with the Nevada State Commission on Judicial Discipline, Ramsey admitted to “failing to maintain the dignity of her office” by amending charges in several cases against the wishes of both of defense and the prosecutor. She also admitted to making her assistant do her personal errands.

Under the settlement, Ramsey was barred from seeking re-election to the bench next year and will be suspended without pay for the final three months of her term. She was also required to complete an exam to determine whether she is fit for duty, and must issue an apology to the people who filed the complaint against her.

Ramsey was elected to a six-year term in 2011, becoming the first woman to serve as a judge in North Las Vegas’ history. A recall attempt was launched against her in 2015, but the matter remains tied up in court. A Clark County district judge has ruled against Ramsey’s argument that judges cannot be recalled; Ramsey then appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, where the case is still pending.

Ramsey did not return phone calls seeking comment on Friday.

If Ramsey’s seat is eliminated, that would leave Judge Sean Hoeffgen as the sole judge serving on the North Las Vegas municipal bench. Hoeffgen, who was elected in 2015, was reprimanded in August for failing to report Ramsey’s misconduct and was required to complete an ethics class under a settlement reached with the discipline commission.

Hoeffgen did not return phone calls seeking comment on Friday.

The council meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at North Las Vegas City Hall, 2250 Las Vegas Boulevard North.

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Find @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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