I’d like to begin by offering a sincere, heartfelt thank you to the clients, lawyers, judiciary, and court staff in our community for your patience, dedication, commitment, innovation, and suggestions to the Nevada Appellate Courts in 2020. Against the head winds of the pandemic, you persevered and helped us find ways to continue our service to the citizens of Nevada. Like you, we have operated in a “remote” environment. Nonetheless, we were able to conduct oral arguments in cases where warranted, publish 91 opinions on Nevada law, and reduce our year-end pending cases to 1,442. The total of pending cases (many of which were not yet ready for disposition because they were pending briefing, motion practice, or the settlement program) is the lowest in nearly 35 years.
Brad Paisley once said “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one!” I am hopeful for the book we write this year. While challenges and uncertainties lie ahead, the Nevada Appellate Courts are presented with many opportunities for 2021.
First and foremost, it was and remains critical that we secure a priority position for the entire legal community to become vaccinated against this terrible disease. Working closely with the Governor’s Office, we were able to secure a prioritization lane for the legal system by January 11, 2021, submitting the names of over 2,100 members of the judiciary and court staff on January 12 and over 9,500 names of members of the legal community and their staff by January 21 to the Bureau Chief of the State Covid-19 Vaccination Program. I trust many of you have secured vaccinations by now, if you have chosen to do so.
Second, we need to safely open our courts, understand the devastating impact caused by the pandemic on our caseloads, and begin to increase access to jury trials. To this end, we are working closely with the judicial districts to calculate how many cases are pending, the number of cases in need of a jury trial, and the courtrooms and facilities needed to move forward. This review is not limited to cases in which the parties seek jury trials. The backlog of cases applies to all case types including family law, probate, guardianship, juvenile, etc. As of this writing, it is clear that the number of pending cases is daunting. Access to justice has been and continues to be impaired by the number of outstanding cases in our courts. So a plan for all areas will be vital to bring timely justice to those accessing the public judicial system.
Third, the judiciary needs to develop, adopt, and monitor a strategic plan to advance its mission in the future. Strategic plans focus the judiciary on core values; anticipate the future for the judiciary’s accessibility, timeliness, and efficiency; and, set the agenda and action steps to achieve adopted goals and objectives. Although it will require great innovation and dedication, the benefits from planning now for the future ahead cannot be understated. By way of example, the Supreme Court of Nevada is considering a process to study so-called Water Courts in Nevada. As one of the nation’s most arid states, it is critical when adjudicating stream and water rights that the judiciary is trained, educated, and prepared to make timely judicial decisions impacting such a vital resource to our state.
There is much, much more on our agenda in the coming months. So, I have an “ask”—your input and suggestions for improvements to your court system. We value your opinions and I am confident that, working together, we will write a book for 2021 that will be as productive, imaginative, and historic as the one written for 2020.
Respectfully, Chief Justice James W. Hardesty
About the author
Chief Justice Hardesty has been a Justice on the Supreme Court of Nevada since 2005. He previously served as Chief Justice in 2009 and 2015.
About this article
This article was originally published in the “Bankruptcy Law” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (April 2021). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2021/communique-april-2021/.
© 2021 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.