Lawmakers were told Friday that new rules on hearings for defendants will hit Nevada’s justice of the peace and municipal courts hard.
The rules going into effect in 2023 will require defendants get an initial hearing before a judge within 48 hours of their arrest.
But Justice of the Peace Stephen Bishop of Ely said small, rural courts like his don’t have the technology or the personnel to do that.
He said it goes beyond court personnel to the burdens on law enforcement to get the charges and paperwork done, to the prosecutors and defense lawyers.
He added that for defendants arrested Friday night, the new law would require weekend hearings.
“There are only three employees in my office and they’re not excited about coming in every third weekend for hearings,” he said.
But he said it isn’t just his employees that are impacted. He said the rule basically puts all those participants on hold through the weekend because they often don’t know if they have to hold a hearing until just hours beforehand. To add to the problem, he said the county doesn’t want to pay employees to be on standby in case a hearing is needed.
Bishop said the problem is especially acute with defense lawyers, pointing out his county has had a defense counsel position open for a while but no one has applied for the job.
“There just aren’t people here to take these jobs,” he said.
JP Ann Zimmerman of Clark County said rural JP and municipal courts are very different from Clark and Washoe counties that have multiple staff and judges to handle the load. Rural courts, she said, don’t have the employees and many have just one judge.
“No amount of money is going to solve the problem,” she said.
Bishop said he started doing weekend hearings in October to see how it would work.
“I don’t know that I have to work on Sunday and I won’t know until (Saturday) morning so my weekend is already shot.”
He said he hasn’t had a “true day off” since October.
JP Kevin Higgins of Sparks said they have three justice courts and two municipal courts and are already working weekends. He said the DA has already requested additional personnel and the public defender managed to get a federal grant to help. He said the judges are getting ready to ask the Washoe County commission for a fourth judge to handle the load.
Higgins said added issues include that some defendants on drugs or heavily intoxicated aren’t in condition to come before a judge in 48 hours and when an interpreter other than a Spanish speaker is needed, it sometimes takes a week to get one in rural Nevada.
He said he covered for a vacationing rural judge a while back and got a call from the sheriff’s office telling him not to jail anyone because there’s no deputy to man the jail over the weekend.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to make it work,” Bishop said.