Judge measure OK’d

CARSON CITY — A measure that would give voters a chance to change how judges are chosen in Nevada, from the currently used popular elections to appointments, was narrowly approved Wednesday by a Senate panel.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to recommend Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would replace the current practice of having judges and Supreme Court justices compete for jobs in contested nonpartisan elections every six years, to an appointment process known as the “Missouri Plan.”

The proposal to amend the state constitution has a long way to go before it could take effect. It will have to be approved by the Legislature this session and a second time in 2009 before it could go to the voters in 2010. If approved by voters then, the new appointment process would take effect beginning in 2012.

The new process would see district court judges and justices appointed by the governor. They would then stand for retention by the voters. If a judge or justice did not win 60 percent of the vote in a retention election, a new appointment would be made to the position by the governor.

The appointments would be made by the governor from three nominees selected by the Commission on Judicial Selection.

The proposal, which had been discussed and debated in two previous Senate Judiciary Committee meetings, was approved without comment. Voting no were Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, and Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, submitted the proposal.

Raggio said in an interview when the proposal was first publicly released in July that he has been a longtime supporter of the Missouri Plan.

Currently in Nevada, judges campaign for election and raise campaign contributions, many of which come from attorneys or litigants appearing before them on cases.

A Los Angles Times series on the Southern Nevada judiciary published last year pointed out several instances in which judges received contributions from attorneys who then appeared in front of them on cases.

Raggio, who got the proposal on the ballot in 1988 only to see it defeated by voters, said the newspaper series might give the idea new support.

“I’ve supported it ever since I’ve been in the Legislature,” he said in July. “It’s a far better way than having judges, incumbent judges, having to go through a process where they go to law offices or potential litigants to raise money.

“Campaigns take money,” Raggio said. “This idea is not perfect, but it is far better than the existing method.”

The proposal will now go to the full Senate for a vote before being considered in the Assembly.

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