By JEFF GERMAN
Complaints against judges across the state are rising, but the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline is having a tough time keeping up.
Executive Director Paul Deyhle said the commission lacks modern-day resources, manpower and in some instances authority to handle the growing caseload.
The backlog is the result of years of being underfunded and ignored within state government, he said.
This past year, the seven-member commission spent $183,300 — more than three-quarters of its budget — pursuing a single disciplinary action against former Family Court Judge Steven Jones, who fought the panel every step of the way.
For its efforts, the commission ended up giving Jones a three-month suspension without pay over his mishandling of a romantic relationship with a prosecutor who appeared before him.
It took the federal government to get Jones off the bench. He resigned in September as part of a deal with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to a felony in a decade-long $2.6 million investment scheme.
Deyhle has big plans to get the struggling commission what it needs to go after errant judges like Jones in the future.
“We’re trying to bring the office back into the 21st century,” said Deyhle, who has been at its helm since November 2013. “Not much has been done for the commission in many, many years. It’s time.”
During a time of fiscal restraint, Deyhle has requested a 40-percent increase in his new two-year budget, bringing it up to $902,971. He wants to add an associate general counsel and a management analyst and take other long-overdue measures to improve the commission’s daily operations.
The commission, which received roughly 225 complaints against judges this year, has had only three full-time staffers, including Deyhle, to process those cases. Deyhle has doubled as general counsel.
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The new hires would eliminate the frequent need to pay expensive private lawyers to handle disciplinary cases and move the cases along quicker, Deyhle said.
It allows for the purchase of a new Internet server to store and protect commission documents, along with a new electronic case management system that should have been installed years ago. The current system isn’t supported by the manufacturer, which is no longer in business.
Deyhle said he also hopes to use the additional funds to provide more ethics training to judges around the state.
One of his bigger priorities is finding a new and larger office in Carson City. The current office is in a building with no other state agencies and sits next to a fitness center. At times during the day, the walls shake from the impact of the fitness classes and their blaring music, Deyhle said.
The office is so cramped that case files have to be stacked in boxes along the walls in public view. Supplies are stored in the bathroom, and there is no conference room or place for visitors to sit, he said.
Commissioners also are forced to conduct confidential conference calls from a common office area at a staffer’s desk with the help of a plastic folding table, he added.
Deyhle’s push to beef up the office also includes seeking financial help from the Nevada Legislature in the case of an emergency.
He has submitted a bill draft that would give the judicial commission an opportunity to draw money from a state contingency fund if it finds itself short of operating cash because of another high-profile case like the one involving Jones.
Another bill draft would more clearly define the commission’s ability to take certain action against judges and expand its authority to remove a judge without pay.
Over the past several months, Deyhle has been working hard behind the scenes lobbying for the changes.
“We’re trying to improve the operational efficiency of the office,” he said. “We’re trying to effect a positive change, so the commission can better carry out its constitutional and statutory mandates. It’s not unreasonable.”
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.