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Nevada Supreme Court ruling on judicial recalls was long overdue

I was the legal consultant for North Las Vegas Judge Catherine Ramsey regarding the constitutional law issues surrounding her recall, and I differ with the Review-Journal’s April 16 editorial criticizing the Nevada Supreme Court decision on the issue.

The court correctly ruled that judges in Nevada were no longer subject to recall petitions because the Commission on Judicial Discipline was intended to be the primary remedy for judicial misconduct. Legislative history supported this point. The recall provisions were enacted into the Nevada Constitution in 1912. The Commission was constitutionally created in 1976 and the enabling legislation was passed in 1977.

Simple comparisons prove the point.

In the past 105 years, only a few recall petitions were filed against judges and none ever made it to a ballot. Not one single judge was ever recalled. The commission has existed for only 40 years but it has removed a few judges from the courts and disciplined several more with other penalties such as suspensions, fines, public or private reprimands, or educational requirements. Those seeking to recall Judge Ramsey spent a lot of time and money in their political and legal efforts and got nothing in return.

Again by comparison, filing a complaint with the commission costs nothing. Complaints are screened for merit and investigated if necessary. If formal charges are filed, special prosecutors are appointed and a public hearing held. No cost to the complaining parties for any of those steps. The commission’s annual budget is less than $1 million. In Judge Ramsey’s case, the only effective and efficient process that took place was the disciplinary proceeding. She resolved the complaint by agreeing to a suspension of her last three months in office and other related penalties.

Judge Elizabeth Halverson was elected in 2006 and started her job in early 2007. In just four months, she generated a slew of ethics complaints. The commission suspended her in May, 2007 and formally removed her from the bench in 2008. If the only remedy then was a recall election, it would be impossible to calculate the damage she would have caused during her judicial term if recalled at all.

The state Supreme Court properly relegated a century old process into the dust bin of history. The commission process is far more efficient and cost effective.

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