The third branch of state government will receive significant voter attention this year with two questions on the ballot that could fundamentally alter the Nevada judiciary.
While the high court has taken no position on Question 1, which would change the way judges are selected, justices firmly endorse Question 2, which would establish an intermediate appellate court.
“Empowering the Legislature to create the court of appeals is a necessary, efficient and effective way to ensure that all Nevadans have continued ability to resolve disputes in a timely fashion,” said Chief Justice Ron Parraguirre in an appeal for voter support.
There are strong signs Nevadans will accommodate him. In a Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll in July, 58 percent of those surveyed favor establishment of an appellate court. No organized opposition group has emerged.
Yet voters have twice rejected similar ballot questions, most recently in 1992. Since then, however, Nevada’s population has nearly tripled and the state’s high court has become a bottleneck.
Establishing an intermediate court requires amending the state constitution. Startup costs are expected to be minimal because the court system has already set aside nearly $4.5 million. Annual operating costs are projected at $1.66 million, including salaries for judges. Current Supreme Court staff would also serve the new court, which would share existing facilities in Las Vegas and Carson City.
The Nevada Court of Appeals, according to Parraguirre, would have three judges with statewide jurisdiction. The panel would handle about 700 standard cases a year, and in turn allow the Supreme Court to “concentrate on more complex, precedent-setting cases, death penalty and constitutional issues.”
The proposed court would be a “pushdown” court, meaning the hundreds of appeals filed each year would continue to go to the Supreme Court, which would then “push down” that don’t set precedent.
The seven high court justices will still have plenty of work: About 2,200 district court cases are appealed each year, or about 350 cases per justice. By comparison, Arizona Supreme Court justices handle roughly 210 cases per year. In California it’s 190, and in Utah it’s 110. Those states all have intermediate appellate courts.
“The Nevada Supreme Court is one of the busiest appellate courts in the country, and one of only 11 jurisdictions without a court of appeals,” Parraguirre said. “The ability to address appeals in a thoughtful and timely manner is critical for those in the legal process.”
Only West Virginia’s highest court has a busier docket than Nevada, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.
Parraguirre said delayed decisions for both criminal defendants and crime victims and their families prevent them from obtaining “certainty” and “closure.”
In Family Court cases, he said, the placement and welfare of children can be adversely affected.
“Prolonged litigation extracts a tremendous financial and emotional toll,” he said.
Parraguirre, who runs unopposed on Nov. 2, concedes that despite its best efforts, the high court struggles to keep up. As the state’s court of last resort, every appeal filed, from driver’s license revocations to death penalty cases, winds up on the high court’s doorstep.
An intermediate appellate court will help the court maintain “high judicial quality,” said Parraguirre, and more efficiently manage all appeals by establishing minimal delays in processing, which in turn would help the high court render timely and thoughtful decisions.
Contact Doug McMurdo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.2010 GENERAL ELECTION VOTER GUIDE
BALLOT QUESTION 2Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to allow for the establishment of an intermediate appellate court, that would have jurisdiction over appeals of certain civil and criminal cases arising from the district courts?