The Nevada group looking into judicial reforms is urging the state commission responsible for disciplining judges to be more open and work faster to settle complaints against judges.
A report released Monday by a subcommittee of the Article 6 Commission states that the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission should resolve cases against judges within 18 months. It also recommends that the commission allow people who file complaints against judges to speak openly about the cases.
Under current state law, people who make formal complaints against judges can be punished with contempt if they talk about their complaints.
The proposals, if adopted by the Article 6 Commission, will be sent to the Legislature for possible changes to state law. The Article 6 Commission will hear from the public about the report on Jan. 15 at the Supreme Court’s Regional Justice Center courtroom.
The recommendations were made to instill confidence in the way judges are disciplined, said William Dressel, president of the National Judicial College and co-chairman of the Article 6 Commission.
“When there is a judge who has done something inappropriate, there is action taken,” he said.
The Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission is the only agency in Nevada with the power to remove judges from the bench. But critics have said the commission operates with too much secrecy and takes too long to discipline judges.
In 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed a federal lawsuit against the Judicial Discipline Commission in a failed attempt to overturn its confidentiality requirement.
In a separate case, the Judicial Discipline Commission was criticized for taking three years to reprimand and remove District Judge Jerry Sobel from the bench after it was informed that the judge confronted one attorney about not contributing to his re-election campaign and another for attending an opponent’s campaign event.
From fiscal years 2003 to 2007, the commission received 770 complaints of judicial misconduct. More than half of those complaints, 481, were dismissed by the commission without any investigation.
The report stated that “prompt resolution of complaints of judicial misconduct benefits both the public and judges.”
But the report recognized that the Judicial Discipline Commission will need more staff and funding in order to resolve complaints quicker.
In addition to pushing for case resolution in 18 months, the Article 6 Commission proposes that deadlines be created for the formal filing of a statement of charges.
The report also suggests requiring the Judicial Discipline Commission to prepare an annual report detailing how cases are handled and informing the complainants of how their complaints were resolved.
Judicial Discipline Commission Executive Director David Sarnowski said the commission worked with the Article 6 group as it compiled the report and said it was a “collegial process.”
“While we might have some disagreement about one or two items, by and large we think it’s a step in the right direction,” Sarnowski said. “Hopefully, this will end up with a better system.”
Sarnowski wouldn’t say what the disagreements were and declined to comment in detail about the report’s findings and recommendations.
He did say that the Judicial Discipline Commission has never recommended contempt charges against a person who made a complaint against a judge and later talked publicly about it.
The Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission removed Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Halverson from the bench after she was accused of harassing employees and inadequately conducting trials. It also removed Clark County Family Court Judge Nicholas Del Vecchio from the bench after he was accused of sexual misconduct and abuse of power.
Contact reporter David Kihara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.Article 6 Commission Report