CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- The wheels
of justice can turn slowly in Nevada -- when the accused is a judge.
The state Judicial Discipline Commission sometimes takes years to
resolve complaints filed against Nevada judges.
One judge remains accused of sexually
harassing a woman -- two years ago. Another has failed to complete
community service for traffic violations and other misconduct dating
to 1998 and a third was censured for campaign violations three years
after they occurred.
Such delays are fueling an effort to
speed the discipline process by the commission. Established in 1976,
the seven-member Judicial Discipline Commission investigates
allegations of misconduct or disability and has the power to remove
or censure judges, order fines, apologies, training or
Those who want to see faster action
range from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of
Nevada to the judges themselves, and the leading argument is that
everyone is entitled to speedy justice -- from those who file
complaints to the judge named in the complaint.
A proposal to require that
investigations into complaints about judges be limited to six months
died in the state Senate in 2005 because of cost concerns. It had
been included in a bill sought by the Nevada Judges
"You can rest assured that if the
Judicial Discipline Commission doesn't bring this back in 2007, we
will," said Carson City Justice of the Peace Robey Willis,
co-chairman of the association's legislative committee and a past
president of the group.
"A lot of our members are pretty
adamant about having a time line on the investigations," said Willis,
who also serves on the state discipline panel. "To us, that's pretty
Willis said that long delays in some
cases before the Judicial Discipline Commission prompted the 2005
effort. The key concerns were that people who file complaints should
see them resolved and that judges shouldn't have to operate under a
cloud for extended periods, he said.
Gary Peck, executive director of the
ACLU of Nevada, describes the delays in some commission cases as
"just another way in which the entire system of judicial discipline
is very badly broken in this state."
"The public, the complainants and the
judicial system itself are entitled to timely decisions," Peck said,
adding that the ACLU will join in the 2007 effort to speed up the
Douglas County District Judge Michael
Gibbons, president of the Nevada District Judges Association, said he
supports the discipline commission and questioned whether a rule
change by that panel -- rather than legislation -- might resolve any
problems stemming from delays.
While Gibbons urged caution in
tinkering with the judicial discipline process, he also said a
perception of excessive delays could figure in efforts to set up
alternatives such as one proposed for the November ballot in South
That plan, called Judicial
Accountability Initiative Law or J.A.I.L, would create a special
panel of citizens who could sanction judges by levying fines or even
removing them from office.
Representatives of the group pushing
the J.A.I.L proposal have said Nevada could be their next target if
they succeed in South Dakota. Redress Inc., a nonprofit group in
Nevada that helps people who believe they've been treated unfairly in
the courts, is working on a similar initiative -- that also would
cover lawyers and police officers.
Dave Sarnowski, general counsel and
executive director of the Judicial Discipline Commission, said the
panel has a duty to examine its processes and would "certainly take a
look" at the proposal to speed up
But Sarnowski also said he believes
the commission's handling of cases doesn't take an excessive amount
of time given a process that involves more than an investigation and
requires a lot of coordination among the part-time members of the
commission who decide discipline cases.
Sarnowski said the process starts
with a review of a complaint by a private investigator, followed by a
review by the commission to determine whether there's reasonable
cause to proceed.
After that, a special prosecutor
conducts another review and, if warranted, specific charges are
filed. Along the way, a judge can file statements that are made part
of the case file. Ultimately, the commission issues a final
"That all takes time, especially
given the fact that the commission meets once every three months,
generally speaking," Sarnowski said.
Complicating the process is a
requirement that all complaints and investigations be kept secret.
Public disclosure occurs only if the commission charges a
Among cases that have prompted
--The drawn-out case against former
part-time Henderson Judge Peter LaPorta, fined in 2004 for accepting
money from a client without performing legal work and running up
$8,000 in parking tickets that dated to 1998 or earlier. He avoided
paying an $11,000 fine by promising to do community service -- and
now faces another commission hearing in June to explain why he hasn't
done that service.
--A commission order in December that
gave Clark County District Judge Don Mosley another 11 months to
complete a mandated ethics class. The class was ordered as part of
the commission's 2002 finding that he committed ethical violations in
his decade-long child custody dispute.
--A complaint filed March 28 against
District Judge Michael Memeo, stemming from an alleged sexual
harassment incident two years earlier. He allegedly held a marker
about an inch away from a woman employee of the Juvenile Probation
Department and pretended to draw circles around her
--A Feb. 3 order that censured a
Fallon justice of the peace, Daniel Ward, for various ethics
violations, including using his influence to interfere with a drug
case involving his son. The incidents dated to early
--A pending case against Sylvia
Beller, a southern Nevada hearing master accused of violating
judicial canons by inappropriately ordering a teenage defendant to
take off his shirt and then remove his belt -- leaving him in his
boxer shorts with his pants around his ankles. The incident occurred
in August 2004.
--The June 2005 censure of former
Clark County District Judge Jeff Sobel for trying to pressure lawyers
to give him campaign contributions for his unsuccessful 2002
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(Copyright 2006 by The Associated
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