The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled judges are exempt from the constitutional provision allowing recall elections to remove any public officer.
“We, like our sister states, believe that judges are public officers for purposes of Nevada’s constitutional recall provision adopted in 1912,” the opinion by Justice Jim Hardesty states. “However, even if judges originally could be recalled, (Judge Catherine) Ramsey argues that the creation of the (Judicial Discipline) Commission in 1976 superceded any such recall authority over judges.
The judicial commission was created by amendment into the Nevada Constitution by the Legislature and voters in 1976 amid concerns Nevada judges weren’t being held to uniform and consistent standards. The goal was to promote that consistency, independence and political neutrality while allowing the public to hold judges accountable for their official conduct.
Ramsey was elected to the municipal court bench by North Las Vegas voters in 2011. But before the end of her six-year term, a group calling itself “Remove Ramsey Now” was formed and put out a recall petition to force a recall election. The group accused Ramsey of using city assets for personal use, that she was excessively absent from work and mistreated staff and others in her courtroom.
Meanwhile, the Judicial Discipline Commission charged her with misconduct. After admitting to some violations, she was ordered suspended from office for the final three months of her elected term and barred from seeking re-election.
The group gathered enough signatures and the petition was certified by the Nevada Secretary of State but Ramsey filed a complaint charging judges aren’t public officers subject to recall because the voter approved amendment in 1976 removed all forms of judicial removal except legislative impeachment.
The district court disagreed with her petition and denied her claims but she appealed and, this week, the Supreme Court agreed with her. Four members of the high court concluded “the drafters of the constitutional amendment and the electorate who approved it intended that recall no longer be an available means of removing a judge from office.” Hardesty was joined by Chief Justice Michael Cherry and justices Mark Gibbons and Ron Parraguirre.
Justices Kris Pickering and Michael Douglas dissented, arguing the 1912 language in the state constitution plainly states “every public officer in the state of Nevada is subject, as herein provided, to recall by the registered voters.” They argued the fact they’re also subject to discipline and even removal by the commission doesn’t exempt them from voter recall.
The vote was 4-2 with Justice Lidia Stiglich recusing herself from the case.