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Counties ask Nevada lawmakers for more judges

Clark, Washoe and Elko counties asked state lawmakers Wednesday to approve the addition of a combined nine new judges in their district courts.

District Judge Linda Bell asked for six new Family Court judges for Clark County, citing overloaded judicial calendars that in some instances can create yearslong delays for children in the foster care system.

The Nevada Supreme Court sponsored the proposal. Outlined in Assembly Bill 43, it initially requested an additional 15 judges in Clark: nine Family Court judges and six in the civil-criminal arena.

“But our clear priority is our family division and access to justice for children and families,” Bell said, so the bill was amended to ask for just six Family Court judges in Clark.

The change would ease the state and local financial burden in hiring the new judges should the measure pass. The state general fund covers all judge salaries and benefits, and local government covers support staff.

“All of the requests have the support of each county commission,” Justice James Hardesty told the Assembly Judiciary Committee, where the bill was introduced Wednesday.

At the state level, judges make an average of $97,600 starting pay with about $31,000 in benefits, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill. Support staff for a single Family Court judge in Clark County costs about $683,750 a year.

As to where the judges would work, Bell noted that the Las Vegas City Council in August approved a $56 million plan to build a downtown municipal courthouse, which would free up courtrooms in the Regional Justice Center.

The new courthouse is expected to be finished by Jan. 4, 2021, around the time the six new judges would take the bench after the 2020 election.

Washoe County officials asked to add a single Family Court judge. To help pay for the position, Washoe would eliminate a vacant hearing master position.

The move also would allow the new judge to occupy the vacant hearing master courtroom and absorb existing court clerks and bailiffs, meaning the county would only have to fund a small selection of additional support staff.

In Elko, officials outlined a dire need for a new general district judge, who would hear everything from child support to murder cases. The county has only two district judges. The second was added in 1987.

“Since 1987, the county population has increased 119 percent, but we are still operating with two judges,” Elko County District Judge Nancy Porter said.

In a letter of support for the measure, the Elko County Board of Commissioners agreed that the additional judge was “necessary” but noted that “there is fear that Elko County will have difficulty providing the increased budget needed.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill at the hearing, which ended without a vote.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday that he supports the measure.

“It comes down to a resource issue,” he said. “We could use more judges at the district court level, both general jurisdiction and family court. The case loads our judges have are extraordinary.”

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter. Staff writer David Ferrara contributed to this report.

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