Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty Wednesday kicked off the campaign to convince voters Nevada needs an appellate court saying not only would it speed up resolution of cases for people and businesses, but it wouldn’t cost a huge amount of money.
The ballot question before voters in November seeks to create a three judge panel between the district courts and the Supreme Court Hardesty says would relieve the high court from handling a huge load of lesser cases.
He said while divorces and such things as appeals of drivers’ license revocations are important to those involved, they aren’t precedent-setting issues of law the high court should be concentrating on.
The issue has already been before voters three times and was rejected each time — most recently in 2010.
Hardesty said the vote came much closer in 2010 than before and he believed it only failed because it also included changing judges from being elected to being appointed on merit. Experts have said repeatedly voters won’t give up their power to vote on any public office.
“The Nevada Supreme Court is the only appellate court in the system and we get every case out of the district court system,” Hardesty said. “there is simply no way the court can keep up with the case load.”
The current backlog of cases, he said, is more than 2,200.
“We can’t provide a timely or efficient resolution on appeal.”
That, Hardesty said, means both businesses and individuals wait sometimes years for a final resolution of their case.
He said the proposed appellate court would work differently than in most states. Instead of people appealing form district court to the appellate court, Hardesty said they would still appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court would then “push down” to the appellate court the cases it doesn’t believe have precedential merit.
Those cases — including such things as divorces — would then be finally decided by the appellate justices.
He said that system would leave the high court more time to focus on the big issues.
“The court could produce far more published opinions if we could relieve ourselves of the non-precedential cases,” Hardesty said.
He also said the new court wouldn’t add significantly to the cost of the judicial system because it would be paid for by the money the high court now reverts to the state treasury. He said in 2009, the Supreme Court reverted more than $2.5 million and has generally reverted $900,000 or more to the state every year since.
Hardesty said that covers the cost of three appellate justices, their secretaries and six law clerks to help process the case load.
Since there’s space available in the Las Vegas Regional Justice Center and in Carson City, he said, “we don’t have to build buildings and we don’t have to build offices.”
He said there’s even a courtroom in the south for the appellate justices to use.
“If we don’t act now, the backlog will continue to grow,” he said.
And those delays in processing cases, he said, put parties in those cases through “a terrible emotional strain” as well as added costs of litigation.