District Attorney’s office tackles Carson City municipal code
A lot has changed in the Carson City District Attorney’s office since the election last year, some of it to pave the way for a four-year project to overhaul the city’s municipal code.
In 2018, Kristin Luis, then assistant district attorney and head of the office’s criminal division, was elected Justice of the Peace, Department 2.
Deputy DA J. Daniel Yu was appointed to replace Luis, the first time an attorney from the office’s civil division was made assistant DA.
“When Kristin got elected Dan was the natural choice, he was already chief of the civil division,” said Jason Woodbury, DA. “It has become kind of a complex task to advise the city on legal matters. You have to be little bit of an expert on a lot of issues.”
Yu once worked in private practice in labor and employment law and has already used those skills to take over the city’s role in collective bargaining, a task once done by the city’s human resources department. The civil division also acts as counsel to the city’s departments, oversees city agenda language and meetings, and drafts contracts and ordinances.
Now, Yu is using expertise he gained while working at the Legislative Counsel Bureau before joining the DA’s office in 2016 to tackle the city’s municipal code.
“John and Jane Doe should be able to read what is prohibited and what is allowed,” said Yu. “They shouldn’t have to retain a lawyer to figure it out.”
According to Woodbury, it’s the first such project to reexamine existing code and create a framework for it going forward.
Carson City “code has come together over decades, there has never been a formal process, it has always been ad hoc,” said Woodbury. “Historically, sometimes the legal office was not even involved.”
Yu is starting with a guide for drafting ordinances.
“It will establish all your drafting rules, provide some legal construction, certain constitutional considerations and principles of law,” said Yu. “Fifteen years from now, 30 years from now, any attorney should be able to draft a consistent ordinance.”
The goal is to complete that by June, then Yu plans to read through the entire code to clean it up, remove sunset provisions that have expired and redundancies.
Then he will start on the code sections, or titles, starting with Titles 8 and 10, the city’s criminal code, because it’s easiest as it’s essentially a mirror of state law.
Over the next four years, Yu will work his way through the entire code, which ends with Title 20 on taxation.
The city has asked the DA’s office to take over as counsel for the Public Guardian so the DA is asking for an additional attorney in the new fiscal year who will split time between the guardian and the civil division, freeing up more time for Yu to work on the code project.
Jeremy Reichenberg recently replaced Luis in the criminal division and is now chief deputy DA.
“He was the chief deputy DA in Lyon County and we’re very happy he chose to apply,” said Woodbury. “He prosecuted at least one death penalty case in Lyon County.”
The criminal division has the heavier workload and more staff, including six attorneys versus just under four full-time attorneys on the civil side. The division also has four legal assistants, two victim/witness personnel and an investigator.
Last year the division disposed of 202 more cases than came in, clearing up older cases alongside recently received ones. The bulk of the cases are misdemeanors and about half the felonies are for possession of a controlled substance. By mid-March, for example, there were 107 arrests for at least one felony and 54 of those were for drug possession, almost all methamphetamine.
Of the roughly 700 felonies received annually in the last few years, six or seven went to a jury trial, a typical percentage. Many of the drug possession cases go through the specialty courts, where treatment not incarceration is the goal, and in other felony cases defendants often enter a plea before the case can get to a jury.
“All are sentenced by a judge,” said Reichenberg, who meets weekly to discuss cases with his staff. “It’s part of the decision making process, separating the wheat from the chaff.”