In State of the Judiciary, Chief Justice Stiglich pushes for judicial budget reforms
In a brisk 15-minute speech Wednesday, Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Lidia Stiglich spent much of her time touting the need for a major judicial budget overhaul in the wake of the pandemic — and an overhaul that should come sooner, rather than later.
“Time is of the essence,” she said during the State of the Judiciary speech to assembled lawmakers. “Time is of the essence to implement these long overdue improvements to the systems and structures of the Supreme Court.”
At the core of Stiglich’s speech was SB58, a bill that would create a unique Judicial Fund in the state budget, mirroring a similar Legislative Fund (aptly named for funding the Legislature) from which funds don’t revert back to the state’s General Fund once legislative sessions are over.
It would also create a “Judicial Infrastructure Contingency Account” — a kind of judiciary rainy day fund designed to cover physical or technological infrastructure needs (needs that could arise from, for instance, a pandemic), and erase prescriptive amounts on administrative assessments from misdemeanor crimes the state’s Office of the Court Administrator uses to fund different parts of the judiciary.
It comes, she said, as the Supreme Court more broadly looks to move away from administrative assessments (fines attached to misdemeanor offenses and civil traffic violations ranging from $30 to $120) as a funding source — especially as those assessments have become increasingly unreliable over the last decade.
“[Administrative assessment] revenues peaked in 2010 have dropped steadily since and dropped 50 percent in the last few years,” Stiglich said. “These revenues are not showing signs of recovering and even with a reduced budget request, we are 30 percent below the budget for this biennium.”
Calling the Supreme Court “in effect, a mid-sized law firm,” Stiglich also defended proposals to increase court salaries to a “living wage” and sought to allay potential fears that the judicial funds created by SB58 would skirt legislative controls.
“This fund is subject to legislative oversight, and we do not seek to change that,” she said. “The court's proposals in SB58, in our budget, are designed to provide the flexibility the court needs to effectuate the legislature's priorities and fulfill our constitutional purpose.”
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.