Welcome to 2021. I hope we all embrace the new year with open arms and positive thoughts for the health and safety of our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. And of the system of justice we all believe in. Let’s say goodbye to that “decade-like” year of 2020.
The district court has managed the challenges of the pandemic through the insightful leadership of Chief Judge Linda Bell. At this writing, Administrative Order 24 is in effect, which, among other things, precludes in-person hearings through January 11, 2021 unless the judge determines the existence of extraordinary circumstances. To minimize risk, the clerk’s office is closed to the public, as are the self-help centers. In-person depositions are also paused, as are jury trials. Most services are available remotely. Judges are aware of the challenges lawyers are facing.
Court administration, led by Steve Grierson, reacted quickly and we were able to hold hearings, even evidentiary hearings and bench trials, through the Bluejeans remote application. Because of that, I joke that we now know who has pets, a land line, or children at home. Everyone has a “my court appearance during the pandemic” story. But we all learned together and kept cases moving. I saw how lawyers persevered in protecting and advancing their clients’ cases. Judges hunkered down in service to the community. Many settlement conferences were held; giving litigants the chance to tell their story, and achieve the finality they needed.
Court Tech, led by Mike Doan, set up a new inbox for orders, which are now signed electronically. Please note that the filing code, or document code must appear on every order. This information is on the court’s website under efile and File & Serve. Even though jury trials were paused, we promoted efficiencies in our systems. Case management was easier remotely. Not only did we eliminate travel time, but by monitoring discovery cut offs and trial readiness, we hopefully streamlined and prioritized cases scheduled for trial next year. My belief is that the pausing of jury trials was the most detrimental effect of the pandemic on our justice system. With innovations, technology, and science, they should resume soon. People need their day in court.
We welcome 22 new judges, who join our civil, criminal, and family divisions. The bench has new diversity. We now have 58 judges, and almost one third are newly elected. Court leadership has planned for their success. We added many new support staff to the court family. I look forward to working with all of them.
As the new presiding judge in the civil division, I take this chance to congratulate Jerry Wiese for his thoughtful leadership of the last two years and for continuing to administer the settlement conference program. Grateful also for the hard work and leadership of Michael Villani and Bryce Duckworth, who will rotate out as presiding judges in their divisions. Both brought creative ideas to their roles. Appreciative of Tierra Jones and Rebecca Burton as the new presiding judges in the criminal and family divisions. They will continue the good works of their predecessors.
Not everything about 2020 was bad. We worked as a legal community to adapt and do our jobs. We worked cooperatively, and diligently. Lawyers focused and provided valuable service to their clients. As we enter this new year, may we collectively hope for the future and see challenges as opportunities for growth. Let’s erase the words “unprecedented times” from our speech. Lawyers are positive types—remember how we went to law school to change the world? I see that desire in lawyers every day and applaud it. Welcome to 2021 and this new horizon. For every lawyer out there practicing and serving the community, you make a difference.
About the author
Judge Nancy L. Allf serves as the Presiding Judge of the Civil Division of the Eighth Judicial District Court. Prior to taking the bench in 2011, Judge Allf enjoyed over 26 years in private practice where she focused primarily on commercial litigation and bankruptcy law.
About this article
This article was originally published in the “Five Things” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (January 2021). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2021/communique-january-2021/.
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