Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Read this article by Clark County’s Probate Commissioner James A. Fontano.

By James A. Fontano, Probate Commissioner

Nearly 350 years ago, Isaac Newton confessed that his successes came as the result of “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton’s observation has become synonymous with the recognition that anything we accomplish in this life is in large part built upon the foundation of those individuals that have come before. I have just reached the end of my first year in office as the Probate Commissioner, and Newton’s words ring loudly in my ears. I stand on the shoulders of truly remarkable jurists that have come before me.

My first job out of law school was clerking for the Honorable Valerie Adair. Judge Adair emphasized the need to be right–that we could not just take counsel at their word, but instead we needed to look at the statutes and cases and confirm that what was presented was consistent with the actual law.

Commissioner Don Ashworth’s name was held in the highest regard. He was admired for his knowledge of probate and the way in which he ran the department. His Synopsis on Nevada Probate Law was my handbook when the senior partner handed me my first probate case and instructed me to handle the estate.
Commissioner Wes Yamashita presided over the probate department during a period of remarkable growth–weekly calendars when he started were roughly half the size of what they are now. Commissioner Yamashita was also the architect of Part IV of the Eighth Judicial District Court Rules, which are the framework for probate practice in Clark County.

The probate department faces considerable challenges today. The growth of Clark County, coupled with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the delays in hiring a new commissioner after Commissioner Yamashita’s retirement has resulted in a nearly 4-month backlog in having cases heard. My staff and I are seeking new and better ways to allow for the “speedy settlement of estates … at the least expense to the parties.” NRS 132.010. These include implementation of a sales calendar and stipulated petitions for unopposed matters to avoid unnecessary hearings. We are also committed to having ex parte petitions processed within 2 weeks.

There is a lot of work to do, but I am grateful for the remarkable jurists that have paved the way for me to be here today. It is a humbling experience to stand upon their shoulders as we navigate this new era in the probate department.

About the author

Commissioner James A. Fontano was appointed as the Probate Commissioner at the Eighth Judicial District Court on October 31, 2022. Prior to accepting this position, Commissioner Fontano’s practice focused on business litigation and transaction, estate planning, and probate.

About the article

This article was originally published in the Communiqué (Nov. 2023), the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association. See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2023/communique-november-2023/.

© 2023 Clark County Bar Association (CCBA). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any portion of this issue is allowed without written permission from the publisher. Editorial policy available upon request.

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