Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2016

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Voters to decide whether judges are elected or appointed

Ballot question asks: Elect or appoint them?

Sun Coverage

2010 General Election

Zip Code
Party Affilliation
Democrat — 60.9%
Republican — 19.1%
Independent — 15.2%
Other — 2.3%
Tea Party of Nevada — 0.8%
Green — 0.7%
Libertarian — 0.7%
Independent American Party — 0.3%
Who are you voting for in the U.S. Senate race?
Harry Reid — 70.7%
Sharron Angle — 26.9%
Scott Ashjian — 1.1%
Wil Stand — 0.5%
Tim Fasano — 0.3%
Jesse Holland — 0.3%
Jeffrey C. Reeves — 0.3%
Michael L. Haines — 0%
Who are you voting for in the Nevada gubernatorial race?
Rory Reid — 61.6%
Brian Sandoval — 32.3%
David Scott Curtis — 2.9%
Eugene "Gino" Disimone — 1.1%
Aaron Y. Honig — 0.8%
Floyd Fitzgibbons — 0.7%
Arthur Forest Lampitt Jr. — 0.6%
Who are you voting for in the U.S. House District 3 race?
Dina Titus — 66.2%
Joe Heck — 29.4%
Barry Michaels — 2.1%
Joseph P. Silvestri — 1.9%
Scott David Narter — 0.5%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Judges on the Nevada Supreme Court and in the state’s District Courts make tough decisions that affect people’s lives. On Tuesday, voters will make a tough decision that will affect judges’ lives: How should they be selected?

A vote for Question 1, a proposed state constitutional amendment, means judges initially would be appointed by the governor and face voters in subsequent elections if they want to stay in office.

A vote against Question 1 means the public would continue to elect Supreme Court and District Court judges from their first full terms.

The issue is one of two on the ballot involving courts. Question 2 asks voters whether to establish an appellate court system in Nevada, an appeals process that is widely adopted across the country.

The outcome of Question 1 could heavily influence the quality of people who serve on the bench, the role of campaign financing in judicial elections and the public’s faith in the courts.

Nevadans for Qualified Judges leads support for the measure with a war chest of more than $250,000 — much of it from gaming companies and law firms. Backers include powerful groups such as the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, Culinary Union and the Nevada State Bar Board of Governors. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor lent her name to the cause.

The opposition is not as well organized, but has history on its side. Nevadans rejected similar proposals in 1972 and 1988. But the question made the ballot again after the state Legislature approved joint resolutions in 2007 and 2009 to place the measure before voters.

Question 1 would create a Judicial Selection Commission that would forward a list of nominees to the governor. This is how vacancies are filled when judges leave their posts before the end of their terms.

Appointed judges would face the electorate in the next general election at least a year after their appointments. A separate Judicial Performance Commission would evaluate judges based on input from attorneys, witnesses and the public who have dealt with them in court, with findings available to voters. Judges would need at least 55 percent of the vote to retain their seats.

Vacancies created by those who are not retained would start the process anew.

One ardent supporter, retired Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Maupin, said appointing judges “takes campaign financing out of the initial selection process.”

With current judicial races, “what the average person generally sees ... are TV commercials with 30-second spots and that’s it,” he said.

If the measure passes, Maupin predicts that nominees will come from more diverse backgrounds rather than being exclusive to individuals adept at raising large amounts of campaign cash.

“Colorado and Arizona have retention elections, and their former chief justices have told me that the diversity of the bench has been improved in those states,” Maupin said.

The proposed process would be business friendly, said Veronica Meter, Las Vegas Chamber’s vice president of government affairs.

“Impartiality is so important to the business community,” she said. “The current setup is more about highly politicized campaigns by judges than it is about experience. The business community likes to know that when judges look at cases, they’re consistent and impartial.”

Other supporters, such as Las Vegas attorney Marshal Willick, say the evaluation process would give voters far more information on judicial candidates than they now receive. Evaluations also would let judges know they are being watched, he said.

“This will weed out people who aren’t qualified,” Willick said.

And with a retention election, he said: “When you don’t have a person running against you, you don’t have to raise an insane amount of money.”

Question 1 supporters are quick to add that many attorneys and law firms have felt pressured to contribute to judicial campaigns for the potential of better treatment for their clients in court.

But Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, among the lawmakers who opposed the joint resolutions, opposes Question 1 because he said retention elections would be bad for voters.

“This means the judge won’t even have an opponent,” Manendo said. “It will be easy for them to be retained. It will be difficult to defeat someone who is the only person on the ballot.”

Opponents say judges would still need to raise money to run in retention elections, meaning they would continue to rely on attorneys and law firms for financial support.

Another Question 1 foe, Janine Hansen of Elko, said it would “take away from the people the right to determine who their judges are.”

Hansen, state president of the politically conservative Nevada Families Eagle Forum, said the merit selection process for nominating judges would be dominated by elitists who don’t represent the public’s best interests.

“The system we have now is not perfect, but it’s better than giving up the right to vote,” she said.

When the Assembly Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the resolution in 2007, opponents included Sharron Angle, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former assemblywoman who was speaking at the time as a private citizen. She objected that the proposed nine-member Judicial Selection Commission would include five attorneys.

“I would say that this bill will engender a more cronyistic system because attorneys will now be choosing attorneys,” Angle said.

Also on the ballot is Question 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to establish an intermediate appellate court. Appeals from District Courts go to Nevada Supreme Court.

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