Introduction to the
Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline

A. Established by the Nevada Constitution, Article 6, Section 21. Provides the process commonly used to investigate and discipline all levels of the judiciary in Nevada, for violations of the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct. Article 7 of the Constitution still provides for impeachment by the legislature. NRS 1.425-1.4695 supplements the constitutional provisions. Commission Rules and Interim Rules supplement the constitutional and statutory provisions. ALL DOCUMENTS ARE POSTED ON THE COMMISSION WEBSITE. The Commission also decides whether a judge is incapacitated.

B. Membership.

(1) Three lay members are appointed by the governor. No more than two can be of the same political party and they must reside in different counties. Alternates are appointed pursuant to inherent power of the appointing authority, pursuant to Nevada Supreme Court case law.  Chairman and vice-chairman are selected from the three primary appointees, by vote of the entire Commission.

(2) Two district judge members are appointed by the Nevada Supreme Court. District judge alternates are appointed to serve in case of disqualification and limited jurisdiction judges are appointed as alternates to serve during public proceedings against judges from that level of the judiciary, pursuant to statutory mandate. No judge may sit in a case involving a judge from his or her court.

(3) Two lawyer members are appointed by the State Bar of Nevada. Standing alternates are appointed to serve in case of disqualification.

C. Process. Complaints are filed with the Clerk of the Commission. The Executive Director can file complaints as well. The Executive Director reviews all complaints and the Commission meets quarterly (approximately) to decide whether to investigate the complaints, or any portion of a particular complaint ("limited investigation"). The Commission directs Executive Director to perform an investigation. Executive Director contracts with private investigative agency (The Advantage Group) to perform investigative functions. The Commission decides whether to dismiss or to go forward with either private or public proceedings, based on reports generated during the investigation. This occurs only after judge provides an interview and formally responds to the complaint and investigative reports.

If a public proceeding is contemplated, the Commission first must decide "if there is a reasonable probability the evidence available for introduction at a formal hearing could clearly and convincingly establish grounds for disciplinary action against the justice or judge named in the complaint." If a public proceeding ensues, the Executive Director contracts with private counsel to serve as "Special Counsel" (also referred to as "Special Prosecutor"). The Special Counsel independently reviews the evidence and files Statement of Formal Charges. The judge, with or without counsel, files an answer and a public hearing, similar to a trial, ensues. The burden of proof is on the Special Counsel to show by clear and convincing evidence that a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct occurred.

Other possible dispositions include summary dismissal without investigation (most common), dismissal after full or limited investigation, and issuance of letter of caution (characterized as a "non-disciplinary event").

D. Possible Sanctions. The main function of the Commission is to protect the public, not to discipline judges. Nevertheless, the range of punishments include: permanent removal from office, bar to holding judicial office (used for judges who have left the bench before a case against them is adjudicated), suspension with/without pay, completion of a probationary period pursuant to conditions deemed appropriate by the Commission, pursuit of a remedial course of action, fines (normally payable to local law libraries), additional education and training at the judge’s expense, public censure, public or private reprimand, requirement to undergo monitoring by the Commission and mentoring by an appropriate individual. Judges can be required to issue public and private apologies to effected individuals. Judges can be required to undergo physical and/or psychiatric evaluation and testing.

E. Appellate review. Only a judge, not a complainant, can appeal from the Commission’s decision. Appeal is taken directly to the Nevada Supreme Court ("NSC"). The NSC defers to the Commission’s findings of fact and it determines if the record supports the findings. The NSC conducts a de novo review of legal issues, including appropriateness of the punishment. The NSC can lessen the punishment or increase it. The court has adopted the "objective reasonable person standard" to evaluate whether conduct violates the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commission applies the same standard. In July 2007, the Commission also conducted one non-public interim removal hearing is the subject of an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court (briefs may be located at the Supreme Court’s website under the "high-profile cases" tab on the home page). There is a second appeal pending from a Commission proceeding held in late 2006. The briefing is not yet complete.

F. Production. The Commission conducted twelve (12) public proceedings (not counting follow-up hearings after an initial public proceeding) in the period from March 29, 2002 (beginning of the Executive Director’s tenure), to the present–an approximate average of just over two (2) per year. From 1995 to March 29, 2002, the Commission conducted ten (10) public proceedings–an approximate average of just over one (1) per year.

(1) FY 2003–Received 151 complaints and investigated 36 (23.8%).

(2) (2) FY 2004–Received 144 complaints and investigated 25 (17.4%).

(3) FY 2005–Received 143 complaints and investigated 34 (23.8%).

(4) FY 2006–Received 164 complaints and investigated 40 (24.4%).  

(5) FY 2007-Received 168 complaints and investigated 37 (22.0%).

                     

G. Comparative Statistics. In FY 2006, the NJDC issued three (3) written decisions in public cases that imposed discipline against three different judges, while another was issued finding no violation. An unverified, unofficial count of public action taken against judges in other selected states that same year shows the following numbers: Alabama-1, Arizona-1, Arkansas-2, Connecticut-2, Kansas-6, Kentucky-3, Maryland-1, Massachusetts-1, Mississippi-4, Nebraska-2, New Hampshire-1, Pennsylvania-3, Tennessee-1, Texas-12, Washington-7. The largest states, California and New York, had 15 and 14, respectively.

         

 

 


Last Updated: 05/23/13 09:22:23 AM