Las Vegas Sun

October 30, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: COURTS:

County will again fight a move to add judges

Chris Giunchigliani

Chris Giunchigliani

Clark County is heading into yet another tug-of-war with its court system over money.

Las Vegas Justice Court is moving to add two more judges in January 2011, and the county, which is struggling with a budget shortfall, would not only have to pay the salaries of the new judges, but would also have to hire staff for them, as well as more prosecutors and deputy public defenders to cover those courts.

“It could be a $5 million to $6 million hit for the county, and we can’t afford that right now,” County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani told the Sun on Tuesday.

The county’s budget shortfall is expected to continue into 2011.

Giunchigliani also said she isn’t convinced “the justification is there” to add more justices of the peace. “We need to get a better handle on how we deliver justice,” the commissioner suggested.

Chief Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman, however, noted in a letter to the county that a state statute mandates a ratio of one justice of the peace for every 100,000 residents. The 2008 population estimate for the Las Vegas Justice Court’s jurisdiction was just shy of 1.4 million. That total calls for 14 justices of the peace. The court has 12.

The court got to that total this year when it added two justices of the peace, but more are needed to handle a backlog of criminal cases, Zimmerman said, adding that the backlog stems from budget concessions the court made to the county last summer.

The county recently went through a battle over funding with another justice court. In July, following an ugly and emotional public fight, the county persuaded North Las Vegas Justice Court to back away from its plan for additional courtroom sessions the county estimated would have cost taxpayers an extra $545,000 in its first year alone.

•••

Court officials are on another campaign to protect themselves and the public from the H1N1 virus at the Regional Justice Center.

On Oct. 20, Michael Sommermeyer, the District Court’s public information officer, quietly sent out a memo disclosing that two employees had been diagnosed with the virulent strain of the flu and were not allowed to return to work until their health improved.

The identities of the two infected employees were not disclosed, but courthouse sources said they worked in Las Vegas Justice Court.

Efforts to prevent the spread of the virus have been stepped up, with signs posted warning people to cover their mouths when they cough and to wash their hands frequently. Sanitizer dispensers have been put up in employee areas, and special dispensers are on back-order for the public’s use.

Some deputy courthouse marshals are now wearing rubber gloves while they check the belongings of people passing through the metal detectors at the main entrance.

•••

It looks like hotshot Los Angeles lawyer Pierce O’Donnell has a fight on his hands just to get a crack at defending high roller Terrance Watanabe.


Terrance K. Watanabe, right, claims to have lost $112 million at Harrah's casinos in 2007. He alleges the company encouraged him to gamble while intoxicated.

Terrance K. Watanabe, right, claims to have lost $112 million at Harrah's casinos in 2007. He alleges the company encouraged him to gamble while intoxicated.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski, who is prosecuting Watanabe for failing to pay Harrah’s Entertainment $14.7 million in gambling markers, has filed court papers accusing O’Donnell of lying on his application to practice law in Nevada.

Zadrowski alleges the high-profile O’Donnell failed to disclose that the California State Bar has disciplinary proceedings against him, and as a result, the prosecutor opposes O’Donnell’s association with the Watanabe case.

The proceedings stem from O’Donnell’s misdemeanor California conviction in 2006 for unlawfully funneling contributions through his law firm’s employees to the 2001 campaign of former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn.

Similar federal charges against O’Donnell involving the 2004 presidential campaign of John Edwards were dismissed this year.

Terry Fahn, a Los Angeles public relations consultant for Watanabe, said O’Donnell responded truthfully to all of the questions on his Nevada application and has not been disciplined by the California Bar for any misconduct related to Hahn or Edwards.

District Judge Donald Mosley has scheduled a Monday hearing on whether to allow O’Donnell to defend Watanabe.

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