Supreme Court takes on clerk issue
The fate of Washoe County’s court clerks is now in the hands of the Nevada Supreme Court.
A half-dozen county clerks sat in the gallery Wednesday as justices heard arguments on whether the court clerks work for the county clerk or Washoe judges.
Washoe County Clerk Amy Harvey is challenging the status quo in her county, where court clerks work for the judges.
Mike Langton, Harvey’s attorney, said the Nevada Constitution clearly puts Harvey in charge of the court clerks.
According to Article 4 of the constitution, the county clerk is the ex officio clerk of the courts of record and the boards of county commissioners.
Harvey filed a complaint with the Supreme Court in November 1999 after finding out that the court clerks did not work for her, even though her name appears on the court documents.
Court clerks in Washoe County have worked for the judicial district since the mid-’70s, thanks to an ordinance passed by the county commission. Several failed attempts have been made to change the law in the Legislature or by public vote.
The justices will issue their opinion at a later date.
“The judges have locked the doors on Mrs. Harvey,” Langton said. “She is asserting her constitutional rights.”
Langton told the justices that Harvey did not want to usurp judicial authority.
“She does not want to be a judge,” he said. “There is zero evidence that she has refused to follow any directions of the court.”
Assistant Attorney General Tom Patton, representing the judges, said the courts must modernize in order to meet increased case loads.
He pointed out that the Supreme Court approved Washoe County’s judicial rules in January, which included the management of the clerks by the judges.
Justice Cliff Young questioned whether the need to modernize would supersede the proper procedure but agreed with Patton that the court systems must be modernized.
Justice Nancy Becker said the high court’s approval of the Washoe rules did not mean the justices approved of the system.
“We were just recognizing the existing situation in Washoe County,” she said.
Patton argued there is a conflict within the state constitution between the clerk’s powers and those granted to the judiciary.
He said the constitution does not specify what the county clerk’s duties are in regards with the courts.
After the hearing, Harvey said she had butterflies in her stomach the entire time.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “I’m glad we’ve been able to bring the issue here.”
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