Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004 | 4:05 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- After 12 years in office, Chief Justice Miriam Shearing has decided to retire from the Nevada Supreme Court, and four candidates have stepped to the plate to succeed her.
The Sept. 7 primary will reduce that number to two.
Vying for the office are Clark County Probate Commissioner Don Ashworth, Clark County Family Court Judge Cynthia Dianne Steel, Washoe County District Judge James Hardesty and Reno lawyer Kevin Mirch.
Steel, 51; Ashworth, 67; and Hardesty, 55, all say they would have handled the controversy involving the impasse in the 2003 Legislature over taxes differently.
Steel and Ashworth say they would have rejected Gov. Kenny Guinn's petition to get involved in the case. Hardesty said he would have asked for oral arguments and asked for briefing on what sanctions might be applied if the Legislature failed to reach agreement by July 1.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, ruled that a two-thirds vote was not necessary to increase taxes to fund education.
Mirch, 46, says he has 23 years of trial experience and has obtained numerous million-dollar-plus jury verdicts in favor of his clients.
Mirch and Hardesty have butted heads before. Hardesty, as a private attorney successfully defended the Reno Gazette-Journal against a libel suit filed by a man represented by Mirch. In October, Hardesty, as a judge, wrote a highly critical order regarding Mirch, suggesting sanctions be imposed.
Mirch said Hardesty was trying to impress important people and to promote his political future. Hardesty has declined comment on Mirch's statements.
Steel has been a Family Court judge since 1997 and prior to that served one term in the Assembly and was chief of staff for the lieutenant governor's office in Las Vegas. If elected, Steel said she would like to improve the rules of procedure in Juvenile Court and open a Supreme Court branch in Las Vegas for document-filing services.
Ashworth has been the probate commissioner for 13 years and served one term in the Nevada Senate. He practiced law in the field of taxation and estate planning for 25 years. He calls himself a strict constitutionalist and his first priority, if elected, would be to become more familiar with the needs of the courts, especially in rural areas.
As chief judge in Washoe County, Hardesty says he has brought innovations and budget savings to the court system. He said he has been able to make budget cuts while the number of cases increased by 25 percent. He said the case management of the Supreme Court can be improved and justices should confer before they hear oral arguments. The jury instructions for civil cases needed to be rewritten and the issue of financing the legal system should be examined.
Mirch said he is running to return the legal system to the people because it has become beholden to powerful casino interests. He said that fair and unbiased judicial review should not be restricted to corporate entities or powerful individuals.