A judge has ordered the state — not plaintiffs seeking benefits — to bear the costs of a court-appointed special master’s work investigating the source of a backlog in processing the more than 1 million unemployment claims submitted to the state during the pandemic.
Washoe County District Court Judge Barry Breslow on Thursday ordered the state of Nevada to foot a $69,000 bill for the first month of work by Reno-based attorney Jason Guinasso and his staff as part of a court case in which unemployment claimants sought speedier payouts. Guinasso researched and produced a report of more than 300 pages on the state of the backlog — an effort that took 565 billable hours and that he discounted from the original $113,000 “in consideration of the public interest.”
But it could take months for him to see payment. Greg Ott of the attorney general’s office, representing the state, said the bill would need to be approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, then the Board of Examiners, and a check might be ready by mid-November. Breslow expressed incredulity that a court-ordered payment would take so long.
Plaintiffs attorney Leah Jones said she hoped the same sense of urgency would apply to people who are still waiting to be paid sometimes more than 20 weeks after applying. In discussions about how the costs would be divided, plaintiff representatives argued their clients were indigent.
“We just hope that the same reasoning you applied to the state for the special master’s fees would be applied to all the people, all of Nevada citizens … who have lost their homes, have lost their cars, have had to give up their children and are wondering what they’re going to do,” Jones said at the Thursday hearing.
Breslow said a $43,000 bill for a second report Guinasso and his staff produced in the month of August over the course of 307 billable hours would be decided later. A subsequent court date is set for 2 p.m. on Oct. 20.
Breslow said he was encouraged that after spending much of the summer going back and forth in court proceedings, both parties notified the court last week that they wanted to go to mediation and try to secure a voluntary settlement of the case.
“All parties agree the purpose of this litigation is to obtain payment of unemployment compensation to as many people who are entitled to such compensation as possible and to make those determinations as quickly as possible,” state and plaintiff attorneys wrote in a joint filing on Friday. “At this juncture, it makes more sense to explore the possibility of obtaining a voluntarily agreed to solution to obtain the common goals of all parties.”
The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in recent weeks has not released information about the number of claims being paid or the number or reasons for claims not being paid. It has reported aggregate amounts paid out through various unemployment programs, and officials say a dashboard with detailed claims processing information may be released this week, but it wasn’t immediately clear Thursday whether that project was on pace.