Published Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 | 2:18 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 | 9:44 a.m.
A county commissioner harangued a justice system official for the virtual class warfare he sees emerging between attorneys and rank-and-file visitors to the Regional Justice Center.
But by a 6-1 vote, commissioners approved changes that Chief Judge Jennifer Togliatti said may alleviate the long morning lines that people wait in to get their turn to go through metal scanners before entering the courthouse.
Togliatti didn’t get all that she wanted. A proposal to transfer five vacant but funded Clark County positions to the court, which would then be turned into court marshal positions (bailiffs are now called marshals), was withdrawn before commissioners could vote on it.
In a story Tuesday on lasvegassun.com, Commissioner Tom Collins echoed the sentiments of some other commissioners when he said “hell no” he would not agree to that exchange.
But commissioners granted Togliatti permission to use Nevada Supreme Court money to create two new marshal positions. They also allowed her to convert 10 part-time marshal positions into three full-time jobs.
Because she wasn’t able to get the five positions from the county, Togliatti said the court would convert three legal office positions to marshal positions. She said the marshals were critical to the court’s operation. The scanners at the front door last year uncovered some 4,000 knives; she also said marshals deal with frequent arguments between litigants in court.
With the added people, plus a gift of metal scanners from the Nevada Supreme Court, Togliatti said she hoped to decrease the long lines by reconfiguring the entryway. Currently, she said, sometimes only one or two scanners may be in operation, the result of too few marshals or defective scanners. With the new scanners and more marshals, she hopes to keep all three in operation to speed the line along. In addition, the scanners will be moved more to the west, close to a courthouse cafe, to allow more people into the building, saving them from waiting in line outside.
A plan to open the courthouse’s southern entrance – closed to the public for years – to attorneys for a $150 fee and to jurors is not happening in the near future, Togliatti added, because the court still does not have enough marshals to cover it.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak, the only “no” vote, said afterward he was stunned to hear Togliatti planned to use only three scanners, allowing lawyers to move ahead of others.
During the commission’s lengthy discussion about the item, Sisolak said, he thought Togliatti planned to increase the number of scanners to four with the addition of the Supreme Court scanners.
“Without that, I don’t see how those lines are going to decrease,” he said.
As far as letting attorneys going to the head of the line, which is the current practice, Sisolak envisions the day that will cause serious problems.
For example, when he was called to court for a deposition, he recalled, attorneys were allowed to move to the head of the line, causing others waiting to openly express their dismay. Attorneys also don’t have to remove their shoes, belts and other metallic items, he added, which he finds unfair.
“I think everybody should have to stand in line,” Sisolak said after the meeting. “Just because someone hangs a law diploma on their wall or wears a $4,000 suit doesn’t mean they should be able to butt ahead in line.”
A spokeswoman for the court said attorneys were scanned.
He also told Togliatti that attorneys with coffee were allowed to keep their drink, while regular visitors have to dump theirs before entering. Togliatti said she had made it clear to marshals that everyone with coffee, not just attorneys, may be allowed to bring their drink into the courthouse.
That attorneys aren’t scanned for potential weapons like the public, Sisolak added, isn’t right.
“Just wait til there’s a problem with an attorney who goes ballistic but wasn’t scanned at the front door,” he said.
Other commissioners, however, found nothing wrong with the special consideration. Commissioner Tom Collins said some of these attorneys were paid by the hour, and some of those hourly wages were paid by taxpayers. So making them wait in long lines not only delays the activity of the court, it can cost taxpayers.
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow added that attorneys were officers of the court and needed to be in courtrooms as soon as possible so as not to hold up the justice system.