Civil rights in an uncivil age

Reno attorney has a front row seat

Reno City Councilmember Naomi Duerr talks with David Kladney after a Nevada Women’s Lobby luncheon.

Reno City Councilmember Naomi Duerr talks with David Kladney after a Nevada Women’s Lobby luncheon.


David Kladney, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said voting rights are in a considerable tug of war in the nation.

In a speech to the Nevada Women’s Lobby, Kladney said “legislatures who are really pushing the envelope in trying not to register voters” are part of the combat.

The 2015 Nevada Legislature, with Republican majorities in both houses, considered two measures that would have barred people without identification from voting, but though they went through considerable hearings and processing, neither measure was approved. People without identification cards tend to be the elderly and the poor, both of whom generally vote Democratic.

There is virtually no voter fraud of the kind that is remedied by voter identification. Such incidents are usually in single digits in each election, according to voter registrars and county clerks, and usually have innocent explanations.

The current legislative session, with two Democratic majorities, considered and approved an initiative petition that would automatically register driver’s license applicants unless they opt out, but Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it, so it will appear on the 2018 general election ballot.

Kladney also said the Commission is working seriously on something called “collateral consequences” of prosecution and conviction for inmates who do their time. While their inability to vote, be a juror, and run for office are well known, Kladney said there is a myriad of other consequences. They essentially make it difficult for former inmates to live full lives that other citizens do.

Former inmates cannot get school loans.

They are not permitted to live in public housing—which may mean they cannot live with their families.

Kladney said in numerous states, whether former inmates can continue practicing some occupations may depend on a vote of the state licensing board. In Ohio it was found that as part of their prison experience of preparation for post-prison life, some inmates were being trained to be barbers. But once on the outside, they discovered Ohio did not permit former inmates to have barber licenses. (The law has since been amended.)

According to an American Bar Association report, in Nevada some inmates—depending on their crimes—may not be able to do legal document preparation, serve on election boards of trustees, are ineligible for certificates of public convenience and tow car operation, among other items.

“It’s civil death, and that is not the way to rehabilitation,” Kladney said.

Mentally disabled and police

In other fields, at least two agencies of the federal government have cited a regulation dealing with transgender students adopted by the previous Washoe County School Board in February 2015 as the “finest regulation in the country” of its type. But Kladney said the Trump administration’s action on Feb. 22 withdrawing Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools has made the Washoe regulation useless to other school districts as a model.

Kladney also praised the Reno Gazette-Journal’s series of reports by Anjeanette Damon and Brian Duggan that began April 9 and deals with deaths—including suicides—at the Washoe County Detention Facility.

“It was a great article, and it did do a public service, and it needs to be addressed,” Kladney said. “Mental health is not sufficiently funded to take care of all these issues.”

The newspaper reported the rate of deaths at the regional facility has risen 600 percent since 2015, the length of Sheriff Chuck Allen’s tenure. A promised article on April 16 is reported to have details of a “dramatically high suicide rate” at the facility.

As we neared press time, Sheriff Allen released a statement reading in part: “We agree with the idea that nobody should die in jail and, if we had our way, nobody would. But we must also accept that the reality of our situation is such that there are no simple or guaranteed solutions to the many issues that may result in someone’s life ending while in our custody. We are also painfully aware of the fact that we are human and errors are inevitable—our goal is to recognize those errors when they occur and respond appropriately to provide for the safety of our staff, and for the safety of those who are in our care and custody.”

In an interview after his appearance at the Women’s Lobby luncheon, Kladney said of the Civil Rights Commission, “One of the things we found out was that there wasn’t sufficient data that is kept by police departments throughout the country. For instance, there are about nine hundred and something, maybe close to a thousand, citizens shot to death every year by police officers. There’s 225, I think, police officers lost their lives in 2016 or 2015. More than a quarter of that thousand number were mentally disabled. So the question comes, are the officers prepared to handle those situations as best as they can be, and are the officers protected enough so that few of them will get injured either, because it’s a dangerous job. So those are the kind of things we looked at. Perhaps we can save lives on both sides of this equation.” (See 15 Minutes interview, page 39.)