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Debate Held on Ballot Measure to Change How Nevada Judges are Chosen

The chief justice of Texas’ Supreme Court said at a forum last week that he supported a ballot measure before Nevada voters to change the way judges are chosen. A legal scholar from Vanderbilt University argued against the measure at the same forum, held at the Boyd School of Law on the campus of UNLV.
Both brought unique perspectives. Texas is a state that elects its judges who collect campaign donations from those who may appear before them creating bright-line conflicts-of-interest.
Vanderbilt’s Brian T. Fitzpatrick is from Tennessee, a state that uses “merit� selection similar to one that Nevada voters are considering. In Tennessee the merit system has come under fire for creating a system of cronyism and giving voters too little say.

Changing the way Nevada chooses its judges would mean that judgeships would almost assuredly become lifetime appointments, according to Fitzgerald.
“It’s hard to lose a race when you have no opponent,� Fitzgerald said. “The retention rate is 99% if you look all across America. For us…it means that whoever the governor tells to put on the bench is going to be there for as long as they want to be there. It is basically a life tenure for the judges selected by the bar.�
Texas’ Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson argued that a merit system would be better because of the influence campaign contributions have in judicial races.
It comes down to “the money,� Jefferson said.
“We’re talking millions and millions of dollars,� Jefferson said. “From 1999-2006, the candidates in Alabama raised $9,090,388 for State Supreme Court elections. Texas was over $3,000,000.�
The merit system before voters – Nevada Ballot Question Number 1 – roughly entails three tenets.
If there is a vacancy in a Supreme or District Courts, candidates will submit their names to the Commission on Judicial Selection who will review those names based on their experience and impartiality.
The Commission then submits them for approval to the public and to the governor for appointment. This probationary appointment lasts until the next general election.
It goes on to say: “Justices and judges seeking another term would be evaluated based on their record by the newly created Commission on Judicial Performance, which would consist of the Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court and equal numbers of attorneys and non-attorneys.�
This report by the C.J.P. would be available to the public at least 6 weeks before the election for review.
The vote would be a “retention referendum� or “Yes/No� question as to whether to retain the judge.
While the current system is not perfect, Fitzgerald said, there are better approaches than this for Nevada voters.
Longer terms, public financing, appointments like the federal system and anonymous campaign contributions would help alleviate voter complacency and judicial bias, he said.
One example: “I have a friend who is a judge in another state; he gets a report from the bank on how much money is in his account,� Fitzgerald said. “He’s not allowed to know [who gave it].�
Jefferson, however, cited massive voter complacency in judicial races as a reason to allow for first-term appointments.
He described how voters tossed out an overwhelming number of good judges in 2006 because of the whims of voters.
“Was it because they were bad judges?� he asked. “Was it because they were unethical or lazy or inefficient? No, they lost because in 2006 Dallas County turned Democrat.�
The UNLV Federalist Society hosted the debate.
“While the current system isn’t perfect, the solution to improve the way we elect judges in Nevada is not to remove the public from the election process and replace it with those who supposedly know better,� Federalist Society President Jason VanMeetren said. “Instead, a better solution would be to find ways to better engage the public and inform the electorate about who they are voting for.�
Disclosure: Jason VanMeetren is married to Karri VanMeetren who is a Nevada News Bureau executive board member and director.
__
Audio Files:
Fitzpatrick worries the public will not be represented in a merit selection system, rather lawyers:
092310Fitzpatrick1 :19 the peoples views.”
Fitzpatrick argues incumbency would be a problem in merit system’s “yes/no” vote:
092310Fitzpatrick2 :20 by the bar.”
Fitzpatrick cites 99% retention rate in judicial merit votes:
092310Fitzpatrick3 :15 all across America.”
Jefferson expresses concern that popular elections do not guarantee a judge’s merit:
092310Jefferson1 :14 fair and impartial.”
Jefferson says the public does not have enough information to be informed in their vote:
092310Jefferson2 :10 an informed vote.”
Jefferson decries current political volleying for judicial positions as “illogical”:
092310Jefferson3 :21 do with merit.”

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Low pressure in Central California will lift into the region Saturday night into Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

The front will likely bring showers and thunderstorms to the region with moderate rainfall. A band of rain is likely to develop along the Interstate 80 corridor from Lake Tahoe to Winnemucca overnight into Sunday morning. How much rain in the Carson City region, if any, is uncertain.

The King Fire, which started a week ago, Sept. 13, has now burned nearly 81,000 acres east of Pollock Pines in El Dorado County. As of Saturday morning, the human-caused fire is 10 percent contained.

Dog lovers and their pooches by the dozens turned out Saturday for the third annual 5K9 run and walk at River View Park in Carson City.

The event was a fundraiser for the Carson Animal Services Initiative, also known as CASI, which brought out canines that ranged from the yipping pint-sized and standard to those with muscle mass and brawn that packed hearty barks.

Carson took on Spanish Springs Friday night in a textbook definition of a lively varsity football game. The contest was held at Carson who came in at 2-0 prior and the Cougars of Spanish Springs who came in at 1-1. It was a close game no doubt, with Spanish Springs edging out Carson 28-27.

Fall is returning to the area and as the days and nights become cooler, many deer are being seen around Carson City. This brings another challenge to drivers who typically do not see them on the city streets. As they forage for food and water, they cross yards and roadways in their search.

As you drive around the city be aware that they may dart out in front of you when you least expect it. With this in mind, pay attention to the speed limits and drive very carefully in areas where visibility is limited by trees and bushes.

Carson ATA Karate for Kids is providing a free community Bullying Prevention and Stranger Safety seminar on Saturday, Sept. 27 to kick off National Bullying Prevention Month in October.

The event, starting at 11 a.m., begins with the reading of a proclamation by Carson City Supervisor Brad Bonkowski, proclaiming October as Carson City Bullying Prevention Month, followed by Sheriff Ken Furlong talking about bullying and stranger safety from a law enforcement perspective.

Renowned Dayton artist, Steven Saylor, has completed his painting “Nine Cheers for the Silver State,” featuring current governor Brian Sandoval, the two U.S. Senators from Nevada, and Mark Amodei, who represents the Northern Nevada congressional district.

The painting celebrates the 150th anniversary of Nevada statehood and will raise funds for the Comstock Foundation for History and Culture, a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and promotion of the Comstock Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.

In a remarkable interfaith gesture, Christian of various denominations, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Baha’i leaders gathered Wednesday at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City and prayed for the welfare of Nevada on its 150th anniversary as a state.

Organized by religious statesman Rajan Zed and Nevada 150 this “Nevada 150 Signature Event” was presided over by Nevada Lieutenant Gov. Brian K. Krolicki.

West Nile Virus has been found in additional areas of Carson City, the Nevada Department of Agriculture said Friday. It has confirmed the presence in tested wetlands, ditches and other small bodies of water done early September, primarily along the I-580 freeway.

UPDATE: Air quality monitors in Carson City and Gardnerville are reporting levels of particulate matter in the unhealthy range due to smoke from the King fire in California, according to Nevada environmental health officials.

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should consider moving activities indoors and avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Bicycling has become a very popular form of transportation, exercise and sport. We have seen a sharp increase in riders around the Carson City area and have observed both good and bad bicycle operators.

Many laws are in effect to protect bicyclists as they travel down the road but if you are a rider, there are some laws that apply to you as well. A cyclist is required to ride on the right side of the roadway so as to flow with traffic.

Carson City's unemployment rate fell slightly to 7.5 percent in August along with Nevada's overall unemployment rate which also dipped to 7.6 percent, the lowest since August 2008 and down 2.2 points from a year ago, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reports Friday.

Among the nearly 4,000 individuals currently fighting the King Fire in El Dorado County, Calif., there are several from northern Nevada including Carson City with an engine and four firefighters, and crews from Storey, Washoe and Douglas counties. It's been a long few days for the members of the strike team who were called to the fire.

The northern Nevada team was one of the first to show up at the King Fire. "We're clearing in preparation for the fire coming and pretty much whatever we need to do to protect structures and get a hold on this fire," said Capt. Jason Danen with Carson City Fire.

A 46-year-old woman was arrested Thursday on battery charges after she allegedly lunged at a bartender, hit a bar manager with a cell phone and, later, kicked an officer as she was being arrested for disorderly conduct, a Carson City sheriff’s deputy said.

Carson City Health and Human Services, Job Opportunities in Nevada (JOIN), and the Carson City Chamber of Commerce are presenting a Job Fair at the Community Center on Friday, September 26, 2014 at 2:00–4:30 P.M. for the general public.

In a hopeful sign for the Northern Nevada lands bills awaiting a vote in the Senate, Congressman Mark Amodei's (NV-2) Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe – Fish Springs Ranch Settlement Act last night passed the Senate and is now headed to the President for signature.

"I want to thank Senators Reid and Heller for their work to pass this bill, as well as Senator Flake for releasing his hold," said Amodei. "This is good news for water users in the Truckee Meadows."

Fulcrum BioEnergy’s Sierra BioFuels Plant that is being built in Storey County received a $70 million grant boost from the Department of Defense’s Advanced Drop-in Biofuels Production Project, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid announced Friday.

The grant award follows the Sept. 4 announcement by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the National Clean Energy Summit that the Department of Agriculture had finalized a $105 million loan guarantee for the Sierra BioFuels plant.

Marijuana dispensary business licenses in Carson City will require $25,000 the first year based on direction the Board of Supervisors gave staff Thursday.

UPDATE FRIDAY 9AM: Highway 50 reopened Friday morning. Expect delays and partial lane closures. Westbound traffic is reduced to 1 lane from Riverton to Pollock Pines.

UPDATE: The King Fire was much less active Thursday and firefighters were able to gain control on the southwestern end of the fire near Pollock Pines. The fire is 10 percent contained as of Thursday night and has consumed 73,124 acres, Cal Fire officials said.

According to a Cal Fire public information officer the northernmost 'finger' of fire is around the west side of Hellhole Reservoir, headed to Chipmunk Ridge. There was structure protection preparation work at Hellhole Reservoir.

Smoke levels continue to plague western Nevada, particularly Carson City and Reno but the forecast calls for winds to change direction some and drive the smoke away, according a National Weather Service forecast discussion briefing issued Thursday night.

The Carson Senators took on the Hawks of Hug High Thursday at home on the volleyball court. The Senators made quick work of the Hawks, taking care of business in less than an hour 25-3, 25-12, 25-12. It was a relatively textbook victory for the Senators, who at no point really seemed to struggle to put the Hawks away.