Efficient justice

On Nov. 6, the Reno Justice Court will gain a sixth department and a new justice of the peace in its ranks. Candidates Pierre Hascheff, a lawyer and Reno City Councilman since 1993, and Gemma Greene Waldron, a criminal lawyer and 16-year deputy district attorney, are competing to fill the newly created position.

Previously, the justice court was composed of five departments, each with one justice of the peace at its head. But due to a higher volume of court cases, another seat was added to meet increased demand.

The Reno Justice Court handles a wide array of legal cases—JPs hear everything from citations and small claims to misdemeanors and even the preliminary examination of felony cases. Both candidates have stated that, if elected, increasing efficiency within the court will be at the top of their to-do list.

Waldron said the six justices need to become more uniform in their court proceedings. She believes the use of a courtroom script would increase efficiency by making the court more productive and predictable.

“Some judges take longer to do a task than others,” she said. “If we became more uniform in how we do a canvass, in how we take a plea, in how we handle arraignments … if we all followed a certain script, we would know that we could hear X amount of people in X amount of time.”

With the county already stretched for funding and a population that continues to grow, Waldron said the court’s efficiency problems will only worsen if correctional action is not taken immediately.

“The court just can’t afford to increase hours,” Waldron said. “The only solution is to do things in a more efficient manner.”

Waldron believes that increased efficiency is possible in the court’s sentencing process. Currently, she said, the court allocates a single justice to handle all cases that are deemed to require extra tutelage. Waldron would propose that all six justices take on share of such cases, carving out one morning a week to dedicate to the task.

“It would require the whole justice court to sit down and reevaluate,” she said. “How do we, now six judges, make the court more efficient as a whole, but still keep it at four days a week, keep the budget straight, and not have to hire more people?”

Pierre Hascheff, Waldron’s opponent, agrees that increasing efficiency should be a top priority of the court, given Washoe County’s tight economic condition. He said that although the Reno Justice Court is one of the most efficient courts in the state, there is still work to be done. He believes his years serving on the City Council lend him a large amount of knowledge and experience in creating efficient government.

Hascheff suggests exploring the option of merging the municipal court and the justice court to increase efficiency. In his City Council experience, such consolidation efforts were very effective, he said.

“In the city we consolidated a lot of our functions,” Hascheff said.

Another of Hascheff’s suggestions includes the continued advancement of the technological capabilities of the court. He wants to continue initiatives such as “out of line and online,” a goal set by the justice court to get at least 40 percent of those with outstanding fines to pay online. If not required to come to court, Hascheff said people will be more likely to pay their fines, allowing the court to create revenue while saving on court costs.

“It’s very expensive to have people go through the system,” he said. “On-line services provide the same result without the cost.”

Hascheff’s ideas extend beyond mergers and fines. He calls for mandatory settlement conferences, which he said allow the court to dispense justice without the expense of a lengthy trial period.

“If the judge can resolve a case before it goes to a two-week trial or a one-week trial, it saves the court a lot of money,” he said.

Hascheff said the creation of Department 6 could not have come at a better time in his career. After a 23-year stint serving as a member of the Reno City Council, Hascheff said he’s now ready to give up his law practice fulfill his lifelong goal of becoming a judge.

“It won’t be hard to move on,” he said. “I’m 57 years old, I’ve been practicing for almost 30 years, so I look at this as another opportunity.”