Justice Rose says it's time to step aside

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Former Chief Justice Bob Rose talks from the Nevada Supreme Court on Friday. Rose, who retired after 18 years on the bench, says his wife is looking forward to watching TV with him at night without him having a legal brief on his lap.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Former Chief Justice Bob Rose talks from the Nevada Supreme Court on Friday. Rose, who retired after 18 years on the bench, says his wife is looking forward to watching TV with him at night without him having a legal brief on his lap.

Retiring Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Rose says it was a single vote cast on the Nevada Senate floor in 1977 which changed the direction of his life and led him to a seat on the high court.

After a term as Washoe district attorney, Rose was lieutenant governor and on course to become governor, probably followed by a career in the U.S. Senate.

Then came the Equal Rights Amendment for women. After divisive and tempestuous debates during that legislative session, ERA finally came to a floor vote. Before a packed gallery, the Nevada Senate split 10-10, leaving Rose, as president of the Senate, in the spotlight.

He broke the tie in favor of ERA, and, afterward, was mobbed by supporters kissing him and opponents threatening him with anti-ERA signs.

In an interview Friday, Rose, 67, said that vote was used by ERA opponents to bludgeon him in the 1978 governor's race.

In conservative Nevada, the tactic worked. The ERA issue, combined with at least the impression that outgoing Gov. Mike O'Callaghan favored Republican Attorney General Bob List, gave List the victory and halted Rose's political career in its tracks.

The advisory ballot question on ERA was also defeated that year - by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.

"That was a new beginning for me," he said. "I went back to doing what I was trained to do - practice law."

A successful law practice in Las Vegas led to a district court appointment by Gov. Richard Bryan in 1986, and Rose says he never looked back.

"I had my run in politics," he said.

He ran for the Supreme Court post vacated by E.M. "Al" Gunderson just two years later, twice winning re-election for a total of 18 years on the high court and three terms as its chief justice.

He said Friday that one of the things that convinced him to run for Supreme Court was Cliff Young's victory over Noel Manoukian in 1984.

"He's the example I look to when I think of a justice," Rose said. "He's a fine man, and I don't know whether I would have run if he hadn't been there."

The Supreme Court presented a completely different challenge. During the early 1980s, it was racked by internal battles between justices Manoukian and Gunderson - who nearly came to blows on more than one occasion. With them gone, Rose, Young and Miriam Sheering, who replaced John Mowbray, began working to bring the court together.

As he leaves, Rose said the court is in the hands of an excellent group of justices.

"In 20 years, I think we've improved greatly, both in our work product and our reputation," he said.

One of the things the court has done, he said, is to clean up conflicting opinions issued over the years.

"That was one of our missions," he said. "In the past, the court had a tendency to engage in result-oriented decisions. We've certainly gotten away from that."

Rose also proudly points to judicial reforms he has helped implement from the panel system, which divides the high court into three-member panels to review many smaller cases, to the uniform system of judicial records and the electronic case-management system.

One effort he says he spearheaded is the "Pro Se Counsel" program designed to help litigants who don't have legal counsel. Rose said the system now provides more than 500 different forms to help those without lawyers handle issues, including divorce and guardianship to landlord-tenant disputes.

"That will probably help more people than anything else I've done on the Nevada Supreme Court," he said.

But Rose says he has serious concerns about the judiciary. First, he said, is the amount of money now required to run for the state's high court.

"You have to raise $500,000 to $600,000 to be competitive on a statewide basis," he said.

"Second of all, we've thrown the switch on expansive growth, but there doesn't seem to be any mechanism in place to fund the secondary impacts of that growth."

Rose said that means not only the courts, but jails and prisons, hospitals and schools.

"The secondary impacts are there and have to be met, but growth does not pay for itself."

He said the Legislature will have to deal with those issues because they threaten not only the courts, which are suffering under ever increasing caseloads, but all other aspects of society as well.

Rose again made the pitch for an intermediate appellate court, saying dividing the court into panels relieved the burden on the whole court, "but the flaw in the design is that (the justices) are members of both the panels and the Supreme Court."

Rose won't retire completely. He has already signed on as a senior justice. But he said that will greatly reduce the workload - particularly the reading.

"My wife, Jolene, says, 'It's going to be nice to watch TV with you without you having a brief in front of you,'" he said.

Besides the volume of reading, he said, the legal issues have gotten more and more complex.

He cited construction defect, medical malpractice, utility rate and election cases that now regularly come to the court.

"Among the most difficult are the election cases because you only have a week or two to decide them," he said.

In his career, he said being a district attorney was the "most exciting."

"But the last 18 years have been the most satisfying and rewarding."

The Roses plan to remain Carson City residents. But they will spend some time on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, in a home they own that he describes as "somewhere between a shack and a cottage."

"It's time to step aside," he said.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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