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Court schedule change hailed

Three judges will give up a court schedule that Clark County leaders said would cost taxpayers $545,000 yearly during a growing budget crisis.

The judges agreed to return on June 1 to running two criminal hearings simultaneously instead of three at the North Las Vegas Justice Court.

County officials applauded the decision.

"It is our understanding that the North Las Vegas Justice Court has chosen to return to their previous criminal calendars," said Don Burnette, the county’s chief administrative officer, in a written statement. "If that is true, the county is certainly appreciative of their willingness to assist … during this time of economic crisis."

Court officials weren’t available Friday to comment.

The judges shifted May 4 to handling three criminal hearings, three days a week. County leaders complained that the third hearing required an additional prosecutor, deputy public defender and clerk at a cost of $545,000.

County commissioners were set to discuss the additional staffing this coming Tuesday, the day after they are expected to approve a budget that now has an expected shortfall of $126 million.

"The number of cases did not change," said Jeff Wells, assistant county manager. "Only the number of cases heard at the same time."

Studies show that 95 percent of preliminary cases take judges an average of 15 minutes to complete, Wells said. Little time is saved by holding three hearings simultaneously.

Justice Court officials had said that running three venues ensured the cases received adequate attention, and that defendants got a preliminary hearing within the 15 days required by law.

They also argued that while most preliminary hearings are finished quickly, some can go for hours.

When that happens, a third courtroom is needed to avoid causing a logjam, they said.

The Justice Court went to the new schedule before the county could beef up its legal staff, forcing District Attorney David Roger and Public Defender Phil Kohn into the courtroom for routine cases in recent weeks.

The situation drew criticism from county officials.

"The district attorney has a lot more important things to do," Wells said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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