CARSON CITY — The Supreme Court rejected Thursday embattled District Judge Elizabeth Halverson’s claim that she should not have to face re-election this November, two years after being elected to the bench.
The court voted 7-0 to throw out Halverson’s lawsuit in which she claimed she and District Judges James Bixler, Susan Johnson and William Potter should not have been required to file for re-election this fall because their terms shouldn’t end until 2012.
Halverson was elected to a two-year term in 2006.
The 2005 Legislature created four new judicial seats and set their initial terms at two years, to be followed by six-year terms in subsequent elections. The shorter terms were set so that all district judges would be on the same election cycle.
In the lawsuit, Halverson, acting as her own lawyer, argued that the law creating these seats was unconstitutional because the state constitution sets district judge terms at six years.
But the Supreme Court, looking back at a decision made in 1871, said the constitution permits shorter terms when the intent is to have all district judges run on the same election cycle.
Halverson could not be reached for comment. She has been suspended from the bench with pay since last summer.
She earns $130,000 a year. Her pay will increase to $160,000 a year if she is re-elected in November.
The 50-year-old judge will appear before the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission on Aug. 4-8 in response to a complaint accusing her of mistreating her court staff, sleeping through trials and having improper communications with jurors. She could be removed from office.
In the Thursday decision, the Supeme Court justices took the unusual step to point out in a footnote that Halverson had filed a complaint against them with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the length of her term. Halverson, according to the court, failed to inform the justices of the complaint when she appeared before them June 13 during oral arguments in the case.
The court was served with the EEOC complaint on June 23.
"We nevertheless determine that we have a duty to sit and decide this matter," stated the court in the decision written by Justice Jim Hardesty.
In the decision, the Supreme Court mentioned that when the state constitution was adopted in 1864, terms of judges were set at four years.
Their decision read like a Nevada history lesson.
Justices pointed out that the Legislature in 1867 had created a new judge’s position in which the term was two years initially, and after that period would be a four-year term.
That judge, Charles A. Leake, died before the completion of his two-year term and Gov. Henry Blasdel appointed his successor, John Gorin. When Gorin was defeated in the election in 1870, Blasdel refused to vacate the office, claiming the constitution mandated four-year terms.
But the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that "the framers of the constitution” intended for the election of district court judges to occur during the same election cycle.
Quoting directly from the 137-year-old decision, justices stated "it was deemed desirable to have the election of these judges occur at the same time throughout the state to prevent the expiration of one term at one time and another at another time."
In 1999 and again in 2005, the Legislature created new judgeships in Clark County and set their terms initially at two years, and thereafter at six years.
The court stated Thursday that the Legislature wanted shorter terms so the new judges would run at the same time in subsequent elections as other district judges.
Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau chief Ed Vogel at evogel @reviewjournal.com or 775- 687-3901.