Battle Born: Challenges Facing the Nevada Judiciary

Article excerpt

Adversity has fueled the Nevada Supreme Court's constant change and growth. With high unemployment rates, one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, and in an economic climate marked by shrinking judicial resources, (1) Nevada's courts at every level continue to deal with an ever growing caseload and with a growing percent of the parties needing self-help services. Embracing the wise words of Viktor Frankl that "[w]hen we are no longer able to change a situation ... we are challenged to change ourselves," (2) the Nevada Supreme Court has embraced its "Battle Born" nature and has worked to identify new possibilities for growth. I am proud to serve as a justice of Nevada's highest court and work at an institution that is relentlessly trying to change itself to meet the needs of the people of the state.

The Nevada Supreme Court is one of the busiest appellate courts in the country. As the only appellate court in the state, and with no discretionary review, the Nevada Supreme Court is required to hear all filed appeals. (3) During fiscal year 2012, 2500 cases were filed, giving Nevada the distinction of having the highest ratio of cases per justice of the states without an intermediate court of appeals. (4) Last year, my six colleagues and I disposed of 2270 cases, an increase in the number of dispositions reached in the year before. (5) This increase is due in large part to innovative programs aimed at resolving cases at earlier stages in order to dispense justice in a timely manner. These innovations, along with the hard work of our judges and staff, are the only way that we are able to fulfill our duties and responsibilities. Without the Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs, Foreclosure Mediation Program, Senior Justice and Judge Program, and Specialty Courts, our judiciary would be choked with cases, causing undue delay, and would not be able to adequately assist those with no legal counsel.

In 1992, the Nevada Judiciary implemented the Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs in Washoe and Clark Counties (Reno/Sparks and Las Vegas, respectively). (6) Due to its success, other districts followed suit by voluntarily adopting the program. The program diverts less complicated cases through arbitration or short trials for resolution in a more-timely and less financially burdensome manner. (7) The short trial program condenses a trial down to six hours of presentation with a decision that must be agreed upon by three of the four jurors. (8) Arbitration and short trials have been highly successful and popular, with settlement rates well above each district's long-term program averages, (9) demonstrating an effective means of addressing high caseloads.

The Nevada Supreme Court also runs the nationally-recognized Foreclosure Mediation Program aimed at easing the foreclosure crisis in Nevada. The program connects eligible homeowners with their lenders for discussions on foreclosure alternatives. (10) Homeowners of owner-occupied residential property in Nevada are afforded the opportunity to discuss alternatives to foreclosure--such as new payment plans, interest rate reductions, cash for keys, and short sales with their lenders and a neutral mediator. (11) Since the program's inception in July 2009, forty percent of the 16,350 completed mediations have resulted in agreement between the homeowner and the lender or beneficiary to either retain or relinquish the property. (12)

Another program necessary to the timely resolution of our unbending caseload is the Senior Justice and Judge Program. Senior judges and justices--any former justice or district court judge who qualifies for retirement and was not removed, retired-for-cause, or defeated in an election--are generally called upon to provide relief in cases where judges are disqualified, occupied with trials or hearings, or are otherwise unavailable to sit. (13) This program cost-effectively allows this court system to keep up with its increasingly challenging caseloads. …