Posted on February 17, 2015
Posted by: Jon J. Carlston
In November 2014, voters in Nevada voted to amend the Nevada constitution to create an intermediate appellate court. Until the passage of this amendment, Nevada was one of ten states that did not have an intermediate appellate court. The Nevada Supreme Court was the only appellate court in Nevada hearing and deciding appeals from final judgments entered by Nevada’s 82 district court judges. As a result, Nevada’s Supreme Court was one of the busiest in the nation. Each of its seven justices was averaging approximately 333 cases per year – more than three times the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) recommended 100 cases per year.
Historically, the Nevada Supreme Court has had the highest number of filings of all states without an appellate court. This backlog forced the Nevada Supreme Court to resolve most appeals through unpublished written orders that only bound the parties to the appeal. The lack of published opinions has arguably led to the same issues being litigated repeatedly. The new intermediate Court of Appeals is designed to decide the more routine cases, thus allowing the Supreme Court to issue more published opinions affecting or modifying Nevada’s existing laws. In the past, the Nevada Supreme Court typically issued precedent-setting published opinions in 3 to 4 percent of all appeals. This Court of Appeals should also provide for speedier resolution of appeals. Currently, it takes approximately 18 months for an appeal filed in Nevada to be decided.
The new Court of Appeals will use the “push-down” model. Appeals filed in Nevada will continue to be filed with the Office of the Nevada Supreme Court Clerk, and will remain assigned to the Supreme Court until they are ready to be decided. The Supreme Court will then decide which matters should be assigned to the Court of Appeals. Approximately 700 cases each year will be assigned to the three judges on the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will establish the types of matters to be reviewed by the lower court. It will also be possible to seek review of a decision made by the Court of Appeals to the Nevada Supreme Court. However, the Nevada Supreme Court retains the sole discretion to accept petitions for review, and such review will only be granted in extraordinary cases. This deflective model will allow the Supreme Court to speed up the appeals process by assigning cases to the lower court, while retaining those cases that raise questions of first impression or issues of important public policy. This will result in more published opinions that establish guidance on Nevada law, improved decisions in the district courts, and improved access to the appellate process.
This Court of Appeals will consist of three judges, but the Nevada Legislature law increase the number of judges. The initial three judges were appointed by a selection process and will serve terms of two years. After this initial two year term has concluded, the judges of this court will be elected in the general election to serve a term of 6 years, similar to all judges in Nevada.
The newly established intermediate court began its work in January 2015. Its initial members are the Honorable Justices Abbi Silver, Jerome “Jerry” Tao, and Michael Patrick Gibbons. The Court is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is housed inside the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas.