Nevada delays plan for appeals court

Officials plan on scrapping a proposed amendment to the Nevada Constitution that mandates an appeals court between district judges and the state Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Deborah Agosti said Thursday she still believes an appellate court is necessary and proper, but the timing isn't right.

"I don't know that the voting public would be in a hurry to vote in favor of a constitutional amendment creating an intermediate appellate court that would be an additional expense to the voters," Agosti said.

The 2001 Legislature approved a proposal to mandate an appellate court. This year's Legislature would have to approve the measure a second time before the issue could go to the voters in 2004.

Agosti wants the mandate shelved rather than passed a second time this year by lawmakers. She's proposing a new constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to create an appeals court if it so chooses.

Agosti said permitting lawmakers to set up the court, instead of forcing its creation, is key to the proposal. The new measure could go to the voters, if approved by the 2003 and 2005 Legislatures, in 2006.

"It was not an easy recommendation for me to make to my colleagues ... I can't say anyone is happy about this decision. We do it somberly," Agosti said.

Nevada voters have twice rejected proposals to establish an appellate court.

Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, was surprised by the announcement at his committee meeting Thursday. He said he still believes the new court is needed, but will support Agosti's request to hold the legislation.

The Legislature previously increased the number of justices on the Supreme Court from five to seven to help alleviate dramatic case filing increases and a growing backlog of cases.

Agosti described that move as a stopgap measure. If an appeals court becomes a reality, two seats would be removed from the Supreme Court. The intermediate court would be given space inside the existing Supreme Court building.

The Supreme Court handles about 2,000 cases a year. Agosti said most state supreme courts handle about 500 cases a year.

"This is a quality-of-justice issue," Agosti said. "How careful is the court going to be in considering an appeal?"

"Think about all those things you want the court to do in your case and divide it by 2000 and you'll see the system currently in place is far from ideal."


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