Chief Justice Robert Rose says that while raw statistics show the state Supreme Court deciding fewer cases in 1999, the court did much better than it would appear.
The court was expanded from five to seven members in January 1999 to help with what justices have described as an overwhelming workload. But the 1999 court decided 266 fewer cases overall than the 1998 court. And the seven members in 1999 produced just 55 written, signed opinions compared to 147 in 1998.
Rose said that's because the 1998 court focused almost exclusively on pumping out decisions and closing out cases, putting aside other court business in preparation for its expansion.
"1998 in my judgment was an anomaly, not statistically valid," he said.
He said that becomes obvious when compared to 1996 and 1997, which looked much more like the 1999 totals.
He said while 2,299 cases were decided in 1998, "1997 was under 1,500 and the year before it was like 1,400."
Rose said 1998 was an enormous spike.
When 1999 is compared with the 1996 and 1997 numbers, he said the 2,073 cases resolved look much better.
"We increased output by 600 cases and I think that's significant. And when you compare it with everything else we got done, it was a very productive year," he said.
Rose said that includes working out how to hear cases in northern and southern panels for the first time instead of having a full court hear all cases.
In addition, he said the 1999 court worked out and put in place new rules for handling death penalty cases as well as doing most of the work on the new Code of Judicial Conduct.
"That took a lot of time," he said. "We had to go over every rule and go over and over them again."
He said those things will produce more lasting benefits for all of Nevada's judicial system.
"In 1998, we had relatively few oral arguments that year. We took up relatively few rule changes and in the last four months, concentrated exclusively on dispositions," he said. "And we got a lot of them done."
He said the benefits of seven justices hearing cases in panels will show in the future.