Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2018

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State should pay for defense of the poor, panel finds

Nevada’s counties want the state to pick up the tab for public defenders.

A Supreme Court committee concluded that it’s a state responsibility to pay for indigent defense.

Clark County spends about $35 million on public defenders, who handled 18,000 cases last year, according to Jeff Wells, assistant manager for the county.

In Washoe County, the cost is about $11 million.

With the state facing a budget shortfall, expanded funding for public defenders would likely face a tough path through the Legislature.

The committee also recommended creation of an oversight committee to set performance standards for the public defenders. But county representatives said they don’t want oversight if the state isn’t paying for public defenders.

“It would add another layer of bureaucracy,” Wells said.

Wells added that Clark County would object to any commission that sets an arbitrary standard on how many cases a defender should handle.

John Lambrose, assistant federal public defender who was a member of the study committee, said rural counties pay 80 percent of the cost of public defense. Some counties no longer use the state public defender’s office because they did not feel adequate representation was being provided.


A state correctional officer was hit with a five-day suspension for doing a favor for a fellow officer.

While on duty Oct. 6, 2006, at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Ronald Burdick told Officer Brian Corley to relax and he would do the 6 p.m. count of inmates alone.

Corley then went into the day room to watch a football game on television.

Prison officials suspended Burdick without pay on grounds he committed a serious security violation by carrying out the count alone.

Burdick, who to that point had a clean performance record, appealed, arguing among other things that a suspension was too stiff a penalty.

But state Hearing Officer Bill Kockenmeister upheld the suspension, saying it was “an inexcusable neglect of duty.”


A subcommittee of the Nevada Supreme Court is recommending more openness in the handling of complaints against judges. The subcommittee is also calling for quicker handling of complaints against judges.

William Dressel, president of the national Judicial College and co-chairman of the subcommittee, said that while the discipline system affects only a small percentage of judges, “its function is important and must be done in an open and timely fashion.”

The full commission will hold a public hearing on the report Jan. 15 at the Las Vegas courtroom of the Supreme Court at the Regional Justice Center.

The subcommittee recommended permitting individuals who file complaints against judges to discuss those matters publicly. At present such individuals are threatened with contempt if they merely disclose the existence of their complaints.

The subcommittee also recommended the Judicial Discipline Commission set a regular schedule for handling complaints, and that decisions on complaints be made within 60 days of hearings.

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