Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hardesty told lawmakers Wednesday the pandemic has raised serious problems for Nevada’s judiciary including a serious hit to the budget and creating a huge backlog in cases at the District Court level.
He told a joint session of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees because of the pandemic, the administrative assessment revenue that funds one-third of the judicial branch budget is down by about one-third.
That revenue is generated primarily by fees and fines imposed by justice courts across the state.
“So much depends on how many tickets are written,” he said. “During the pandemic when there is no traffic, there are no tickets.”
He added that many more people who get cited are asking to work off the fine instead of pay it because they’re out of work.
Even before the pandemic hit 11 months ago, Hardesty said assessments were, “an unstable and unreliable source of funding.” He said assessment revenue has been declining for years but the pandemic really hit it hard.
He told lawmakers it doesn’t make sense to rely on fees and fines at the justice court level to operate the supreme court.
“I wish the Legislature would simply put us in the General Fund and call it a day,” he said.
Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas, a retired Metro Police captain, agreed, saying, “You can’t count on this.”
“I used to get calls from the city of Las Vegas when I was chief of patrol telling us to write more tickets,” he said.
Hardesty said the second serious issue caused by the pandemic is the growing backlog of cases in district courts statewide.
“They’ve not been able to conduct trials in many instances and certainly not jury trials,” he said. “This is a serious justice problem. The number of untried criminal cases around the state is substantial and the number of unresolved civil cases is worse.”
He said once the pandemic is in the past, “we’re going to see a significant wave of appeals and writs that will be coming to the court.”
With 90 district judges and just three appellate judges and seven Supreme Court justices to process those cases, he predicted, there will be major problems clearing the backlog.