Court tried to order staff raises

Even as the budget crisis descended on the state, the Nevada Supreme Court in January tried to order salary increases for some of its top administrators beyond the maximums approved by the Legislature.

For three of the top court employees, including Court Administrator Ron Titus, the increase mandated by the seven justices was more than $16,000 a year.

That mandate, however, was vacated 12 days later in another order, also signed by all seven justices.

Chief Justice Mark Gibbons was asked to comment on the orders and explain the court's position. He did not respond to an e-mail request or return calls made to his office.

The original order issued Sept. 27 attempted to exempt salaries for unclassified staff from the limits set in the unclassified pay bill. That legislation sets the maximum salary that can be paid for each of several hundred unclassified employees in state service, including 13 in the judicial branch of government. It was followed by a formal request to implement  raises for six of those positions Oct. 25.

But state Personnel Director Todd Rich refused to make the salary adjustments requested by the court. Rich and the attorney general's office advised Titus the justices would have to take the proposal before the legislative Interim Finance Committee for approval.

The court responded Jan. 4, ordering Rich to make the salary changes and declaring that the unclassified pay bill doesn't apply to the high court's staff.

"Insofar as (the unclassified pay bill) is read to impose line item budgeting upon this court or to limit the maximum annual salaries for the court's professional staff, which salaries were included within the appropriations previously approved for the Supreme Court budget ... it is declared that the same does not do so," the order states.

That order was issued despite clear language in the unclassified pay bill prohibiting salary increases that exceed the maximum set by the Legislature for any position.

The order was vacated Jan. 16, just 12 days later.

This isn't the first time the court has tried to claim it has authority to lift salary levels set by the Legislature. They made a similar move in 1989 before backing off, as they have apparently done this time.

Titus's salary as administrator was ordered set at $135,240 " just $12 less than the pay authorized for the chief clerk of the court in fiscal 2007-2008 and more than $10,000 higher than any other executive branch department head.

Furthermore, the court ordered the pay raises for that and several other posts be made retroactive to July 1 2007.

According to correspondence between Titus and the Personnel Office, salaries for the court administrator, the Reporter of Judicial Decisions and Chief Assistant Clerk were ordered raised more than $16,000 a year and the deputy administrators boosted $10,816.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, and Senate Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, could not be reached for comment.

- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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