The Nevada Supreme Court has approved a revised code of judicial conduct, providing the first major overhaul of instructions in 18 years on how judges should behave.
The regulations, which take effect Jan. 19, are the result of a study by a commission.
Judges will now have an obligation to report the misconduct of another judge or lawyer if he or she has information indicating a there is a “substantial likelihood” of a violation. The commission said the new rule “mandates that a judge take appropriate action when he or she believe that a judge or lawyer’s performance is impaired by drugs or alcohol or by a mental, emotional, or physical condition.”
The current rule requires a judge to report the misconduct only if he or she had knowledge of “known misconduct.”
There was disagreement between the court and its study commission on the issue of disqualification of a judge. The commission, headed by retired Chief Justice William Maupin, recommended the disqualification of a judge in the case if he or she received financial or electoral campaign support of $50,000 or more within six years from one of the parties or lawyers in the case.
The court did not adopt that recommendation.
In another area, the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a judge has duty to stay on the case where there is a close call for disqualification.
The commission unanimously recommended that the Supreme Court scrap that “duty to sit” ruling.
Laura Fitzsimmons, a Las Vegas lawyer and member of the commission, said the court accepted all the recommendations except three. She said this “duty to sit” doctrine hurts the clients of an attorney who may have criticized a judge who doesn’t want to step aside in the case. Or it may hurt the clients if the attorney on the other side has been too close to the judge who won’t disqualify himself.
“Lawyers are afraid to criticize judges,” said Fitzsimmons, because “their clients are going to pay the price.” And judges have more power in this “duty to sit” system. She said the proposed new regulation would have eliminated the prior decisions of the Supreme Court.
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Supreme Court OK's Overhaul of Judicial Conduct Code