Senators debate bill to appoint judges, justices

CARSON CITY — Sen. Mark Amodei complained today that a proposed constitutional amendment would take the power to elect judges away from the people and turn it into an appointee process run by political “insiders.”

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Carson City Republican said he did not like the idea of a five-member Commission on Judicial Selection picking the three finalists for each judicial vacancy.

Three members of this committee, under the amendment, would be lawyers. The governor then would pick the judge under Senate Joint Resolution 2.

"This tastes like and feels like inside ball," said Amodei, R-Carson City, an attorney. "The process is heavily weighted by members of the bar. It is a bunch of lawyers who are going to have the choice."

Jim Hardesty, chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, objected to Amodei’s characterization.

He noted the existing seven-member Commission on Judicial Selection — used now to decide on finalists for judicial vacancies — has three lay people, and they were not hesitant to make their views known at recent public hearings.

But most members of the commission, which is headed by Hardesty, are lawyers.

Amodei said he was mot advocating that more lay people serve on selection commissions, but objecting to taking the decision to pick justices and judges out of the hands of the people.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who also is an attorney, argued that having contested elections forces judges to seek contributions from lawyers and businesses with dealings before the court.

He said a national survey found that 76 percent of citizens believe that those who contributed to judge campaigns have influence over that judge or justice.

Raggio quoted an Ohio judge who said he felt "like a hooker on a street corner" in asking for political contributions.

"Do you have any polling data on how because of their cynicism voters don’t want to vote on judges?" asked Amodei in response.

Raggio could not give him that data.

Over the years, Nevada voters twice have rejected proposals to change judicial selection to an appointment process.

SJR2 was approved by the Legislature in 2007, but needs approval again this year to go forward. If approved a second time by the Legislature, it will be placed before voters on the 2010 ballot.

 

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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