Those not involved with the legal system may not be familiar with a “Senior Judge.” Under the Supreme Court Rules, the Nevada Supreme Court may appoint retired judges to hear cases as if they were still an active judge. Let’s set aside the fact that both current and past judges in Nevada have a vested interested in the “Senior Judge Program.” They not only earn additional income working part-time without having to run for anything, but they also increase their retirement benefits. It is a good deal for judges, but not so great for Nevada taxpayers and litigants.
Proponents of the rule will tell you that it “saves money” and helps an overburdened judicial system. Perhaps it saves the state money in the short term, but in the long term, it appears that it is costing taxpayers substantially more than any benefit obtained. We cannot expect, however, for the rule to change through the judiciary. The Nevada legislature must address this problem. Financial considerations though serious, are not the only problem with the judiciary utilizing senior judges.
Many believe there are constitutional issues with the Senior Judge rule. A retired judge becomes “active” without having been elected by the people of the state to serve as a judge. This system also violates the “One Judge One Family Rule” set forth in NRS 3.025(3). The Family Court was founded on the principal that because of the uniqueness of family law, a family is entitled to the consistency of having one judge decide their case and not being shuffled around to multiple judges. Family Court was also founded on the idea that a family court judge should have special family law training and a desire to hear family law issues. While the flaws of having a retired family court judge appointed to hear family court cases may not be as egregious, it still violates the one judge one family rule and judicial power is still being delegated to a person who was not elected to the position.
A judge, who was not elected to the judiciary, is being delegated full judicial authority, with little accountability, sometimes to a court where he or she has little to no experience. This is especially troublesome in family court. A judge who may have not have ever been elected to family court and who knows nothing about the practical application of family law, may be designated to sit in family court. Moreover, this may be done with little or notice to the attorneys or litigants. This lack of notice is generally by design so that the attorneys cannot avoid having a senior judge hear a specific case either through preemption or continuing the hearing. There is no doubt that the system is being abused by current judges to avoid contentious hearings they would rather not hear and by former judges who simply use the opportunity to cash a paycheck.