J.A.I.L. News Journal
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Los Angeles, California                                               April 7, 2006

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The Inherent Right of ALL People to Alter or Reform Their Government.
The Right Upon Which All Other Rights Depend.

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Nevada Authorities Apprehensive of J.A.I.L.
 
 
Complaints against Nevada judges can take years to resolve
By BRENDAN RILEY
Associated Press Writer

   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 counseling.

   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 Association.

   "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 important."

   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 process.

   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 Dakota.

   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 investigations.

   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 ruling.

   "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 judge.

   Among cases that have prompted concerns are:

   --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 breasts.

   --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 2003.

   --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 re-election campaign.

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   On the Net:

   Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline: http://judicial.state.nv.us/

   (Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

   AP-NY-04-07-06 0824EDT


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