Las Vegas Sun

July 21, 2017

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Retired justice O’Connor backing judicial merit initiative

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said going to a judicial merit selection system is good for business and has enjoyed strong support from the private sector across the country.

O’Connor, who spoke to our sister publication the Las Vegas Sun’s Editorial Board about the importance of Nevada residents to vote in November for a merit-based system, said she recently traveled to Iowa to talk about the merit system there and how it was working and how she was surprised at what she found.

“Both the unions and the business sector were together on the value and health of the merit system,” said O’Connor, a former Arizona judge. “They were absolutely sold, and you don’t see that often. They were that way in Arizona, and I anticipate they are that way here.”

In Nevada, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce and Nevada AFL-CIO are supporters of Question 1. The question, however, is trailing badly in the polls.

The merit system would replace one in which judges are elected the same as political offices are filled. Under a new system, a commission would recommend finalists to the governor who would make the selection. The public would vote on whether judges should be retained.

O’Connor said businesses like the merit system because they want to keep the cash out of the courtrooms in terms of donations to judicial candidates. In some states, judicial campaigns are costing more than those for a U.S. Senate seat, she said.

“Businesses believe as I do that when you go to court to have an issue resolved, that it be resolved by the people who are qualified, fair and independent,” O’Connor said. “You don’t want them there because of money that has been spent on them. You can understand why the business community would feel that way. You don’t want to run the risk of having somebody who is committed to some point of view by virtue of some campaign contribution.”

Ruth McGregor, a retired Arizona State Supreme Court justice, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce looks at a court system in determining the best business climates in the country. Four of the top five had a merit system and the four of the bottom five had an elected system, she said.

In the most recent legal system survey in 2010, Nevada was ranked 28th. In the previous survey in 2008, the state was ranked 40th.

“In Arizona almost all of the major employers say they favor the merit selection system,” McGregor said. “It is right. I work for a large private law firm and our clients are mostly business clients. What they wanted was to be able to predict what the outcome would be. We had some judges in the early days when they were elected that you just couldn’t predict. They were off the wall with their decisions.”

Because of the concern of having qualified judges, businesses used to take complex cases to federal court rather than take their chance in state courts, McGregor said.

Nevada foreclosures unaffected

Foreclosures in 23 states are at risk of being challenged, but don’t count Nevada as one of them.

Last week, the news media reported that some of the nation’s largest mortgage companies used a document processor that approved foreclosures without verifying the information in the paperwork submitted to him.

The prompted Ally Financial to halt evictions in 23 states. Nevada wasn’t one of them.

Officials with the Nevada attorney general’s office said they are monitoring the situation to determine if any of the state’s foreclosures are affected but they have no indication of that at this time.

The problem was uncovered when a deposition was taken in a Florida foreclosure case and as part of the discovery process it was learned the document processor signed off on foreclosures without verifying the information.

Nevada officials said the states that are affected are those that require foreclosures to go solely through the court system.

Nevada has a system that allows for that but also has a timelier and less costly nonjudicial system that is the preferred method.

In other news:

• The International Council of Shopping Centers will host a presentation at 4:45 p.m. Oct. 14 featuring Dimitri Vazelakis, chief operating officer of Forest City Enterprises. He will talk about the collaboration between Forest City and the city of Las Vegas for transforming a five-block area in downtown into office and retail space. The program will be at the Golden Nugget. Admission ranges from $35 to $65, depending on membership in ICSC.

• Territory Inc. announced it has added four tenants to its Centennial Gateway development at U.S. 95 and Ann Road. They are Yogurtland Subway, Leaver, Gardner Orthodontics and Ultimate Electronics.

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