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Nevada high court rejects effort to move Nye County judges

Updated July 7, 2022 - 5:23 pm

The Nevada Supreme Court has squashed an effort by Nye County to relocate a pair of district court judges in an ongoing battle over whether people should be allowed to carry guns in county courthouses.

The Nye County Board of Commissioners had voted earlier this year to move the courtrooms of Fifth Judicial District Court Judges Kim Wanker and Robert Lane away from courthouses in Pahrump and Tonopah after the judges refused to follow a county order allowing citizens to carry firearms in most areas of county court facilities.

The Nevada attorney general’s office then stepped in on behalf of the judges, asking the high court to stop the county from relocating the judges’ courtrooms to aging facilities in the two communities. The attorney general’s office said the relocation was punishment for Lane and Wanker not complying with the county’s guns order.

Last week, seven justices unanimously decided that the county’s actions were in violation of a state statute that requires counties to provide buildings and resources “suitable and sufficient for the transaction of (judicial) business.”

“We conclude that these circumstances warrant writ relief,” the justices wrote in a six-page order.

Nye County spokesman Arnold Knightly confirmed in an email Thursday morning that the Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to rescind its order to relocate the judges.

But it remained unclear whether citizens would still be able to carry firearms in county court facilities. The high court did not address that issue.

On Thursday morning, at the entrance to the Ian Deutch Government Complex housing the Gerald ‘Bear’ Smith Courthouse in Pahrump, a sign indicating that weapons were not allowed on the property remained in place.

The weapons ban stemmed from an order issued by Lane nearly 12 years ago, prohibiting weapons anywhere that judicial work was being done in Nye County.

In December, county commissioners unanimously passed a measure aimed at rolling back almost all of Lane’s order, yet signs prohibiting weapons at the county courthouses in Pahrump and Tonopah were not taken down.

Commissioner Bruce Jabbour spearheaded the move, saying legal gun owners should be able to carry weapons almost everywhere in county buildings in order to defend themselves if needed.

When the judges refused to go along with the county’s efforts, the commission voted to move the judges’ courtroooms.

Officials had planned to move court facilities at the Ian Deutch Government Complex to a property at 250 North Highway 160. That structure was once used to house the Nye County sheriff’s office.

But Nevada Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Zunino told Supreme Court justices that the facility was not large enough to accommodate courtrooms, holding cells, jury deliberation rooms, judicial chambers, offices, and furniture.

In Tonopah, courtrooms were supposed to be moved from the William P. Beko Justice Complex to a former “fitness center” that Zunino said “is in disrepair.”

Jabbour said in an emailed statement Thursday that the county was following state law.

“We did not list it as an eviction; it was a relocation,” Jabbour said. “We did not overreach our power.”

Jabbour went on to say “the Supreme Court put a halt on what we voted on to relocate, but they hadn’t been relocated yet, so there was no emergency.”

Nye County District Attorney Christopher Arabia, Lane and Zunino could not be reached for comment Thursday. Wanker declined to comment.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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