Will 2014 Finally Be the Year That Nevada Gets a Court of Appeal?

By: Merielle Enriquez

Many out-of-state attorneys are often surprised to find that Nevada lacks an intermediate court, or a Court of Appeal. Under the current model, every single appeal from decisions rendered by any of Nevada's District Courts is reviewed by the Nevada Supreme Court. According to reports by the Las Vegas Sun, the Nevada Supreme Court has one of the heaviest caseloads in the nation. This results in a lengthy backlog in the appeals process. Parties often have to wait for months, or in some cases, over a year, to have their appealed issue resolved. Based on data complied with the Nevada State Bar President, the Nevada Supreme Court docket for the year 2012 consisted of 2,500 cases, or 357 for each of the seven Justices. In short, many of our Nevada colleagues are wondering whether 2014 will finally be the year that voters approve the creation of a Nevada Court of Appeal.

In November 2010, 53% of the voters rejected a ballot initiative calling for the creation of a Nevada Court of Appeal. However, when Nevada attorneys were exclusively polled, 78.2% reported that they were in favor of establishing an appeals court.

Support for an intermediate court has grown in strength over the last few years and proponents of the issue are again pushing for this initiative on the upcoming November 2014 ballot.

The proposed new intermediate court would operate under a "push down" model first established in New Mexico. Under this model, all appeals would still be filed with the Nevada Supreme Court. The Nevada Supreme Court would then assign the cases to the intermediate court where it can best be managed. Proponents of this measure argue that this model will allow for a speedier resolution of appealed issues, increased efficiency in the legal process, and will give the Nevada Supreme Court more time to examine cases calling for more intensive review, such as cases involving constitutional issues. Moreover, the increase in written, published opinions would be of great value. Written opinions are important to the legal process because they demonstrate the evolution of Nevada's common law.

If an intermediate court is created, the Nevada Court of Appeal would occupy existing space in the Regional Justice Center located in Las Vegas to minimize the cost to taxpayers.

The population of Nevada has grown significantly in the last two decades and it is time for Nevada's legal system to catch-up with the needs of the populace. Nevada was once a small rural state, but is now home to over 2.7 million people. From the time Nevada became a state in 1864, to roughly August, 1977, the Nevada Supreme Court oversaw 10,000 cases. However, in the following thirty years, more than 40,000 cases were filed.

Senate Joint Resolution 14, which calls for an amendment to Nevada's Constitution to allow for the creation of an intermediate court, received a unanimous vote in both houses. Accordingly, Nevada voters will once again be faced with the decision to approve the creation of the Nevada Court of Appeals this November.

Merielle Enriquez is a Partner with Kring & Chung, LLP's Las Vegas, NV office. She can be contacted at (702) 260-9500 or menriquez@kringandchung.com