Nevada’s two-tiered court system, established in 1864, is one tradition Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty hopes is gone shortly after the state celebrates its sesquicentennial.
While having district court cases go directly to the Nevada Supreme Court for appeals made sense when Nevada’s population was small, Hardesty recently said that every year Nevada goes without an appellate court the backlog of appeals continues to increase. There are 82 district courts in Nevada, with 52 in Clark County alone. All those cases are appealed directly to the supreme court.
He said a plan proposed will be revenue neutral and won’t establish another layer of judicial bureaucracy.
In Nevada, the supreme court doesn’t have the option of refusing to hear cases like the U.S. Supreme Court or the high courts of several other states.
Hardesty said under the current system, in addition to the precedent setting cases the court hears, they also hear inmate disputes and driver’s license revocations.
“The function of the supreme court is to establish precedent,” Hardesty said. “The caseload limits our ability to publish opinions.”
He said 56 percent of the cases appealed to the supreme court take more than six months just to be heard, 29 percent take more than a year to be heard and the rest take longer.
“That’s just to be heard,” he said.
The number of cases at the high court are increasing, with 1,990 left to be resolved in 2012.
Under the proposal put forth in Question 1 on November’s ballot, appeals would still go to the supreme court, but those like the drivers license revocations and inmate disputes would be pushed down to the appellate court where they would be decided and stop.
Hardesty said the three-judge appellate panel would have offices in the Nevada Supreme Court building in Carson City or in the judicial building in Las Vegas removing the need for any construction.
The three judges would each have a secretary and two law clerks. He estimated the cost would be $1.5 million, which would be absorbed in the court’s current budget.
The appellate court would hear 700 cases a year at the present rate, which would enable the supreme court to move ahead.
The judges would be appointed for two years by the judicial selection committee and then would have to run for election.
Hardesty said the measure almost passed in 2010. Every single legislator in the 2013 Nevada Legislature, including James Settelmeyer and Jim Wheeler voted to put the questions before voters.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if an appeal in the state of Nevada was heard in a year?” he asked.
Proposition 1 will appear on the General Election ballot in November. Hardesty stressed that an efficient judiciary is among the things new firms look for when relocating.