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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
--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
--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
--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
On the Net:
Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline:
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights