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July 30, 2014

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Commissioners outline concerns of proposed inquest changes

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Clark County commissioners spent more than an hour Tuesday discussing changes to the coroner’s inquest process that were proposed by a review panel.

A proposed revised ordinance to change the inquest process was based on recommendations from a panel and then introduced at Tuesday’s commission meeting. The commission will formally discuss and vote on the ordinance after a public hearing Dec. 7.

But after receiving a report on the panel’s findings, commissioners expressed concerns with the proposal, mostly focused on the addition of an ombudsperson to represent the deceased’s family and the public.

According to the ordinance, the ombudsperson would be able to ask questions at the inquest along with the district attorney and a lawyer representing police officers.

But commissioners said they were concerned over how the ombudsperson would be selected and paid.

Commissioner Larry Brown said he thinks it's important that the family be represented in some way, but he is worried the process as defined in the proposed revised ordinance could become adversarial and police officers wouldn't participate.

Mary-Anne Miller, the county’s counsel from the district attorney’s office, told the board the county couldn't require them to participate and the inquest would still be able to proceed without officers.

“It’s really just informative for the public,” she said.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he was concerned about a provision for a lawyer to represent police officers.

If an officer is not a member of the union, he or she would have to pay for an attorney, but Sisolak said it isn’t fair for the county to pay for a lawyer for itself and not for the officer.

Sisolak and Commissioner Lawrence Weekly also expressed concern over a proposed inquest panel, which would replace the inquest jury.

The proposed ordinance says the panel should be “as diverse and representative of the community as possible.”

Sisolak said he was worried that might put an unreasonable burden on the presiding officer to find a way to represent the community with a panel of just seven members.

Commissioners are free in the Dec. 7 meeting to adopt the ordinance as the panel suggested, to make changes to the ordinance and then adopt it, or they can reject the proposals altogether or postpone a decision to a later date.

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