Supreme Court Justices Caught
Hiding Pay Hikes In Bogus Budget


All the worst suspicions of Nevada's Supreme Court justices burst into open flame this week when the high court's Chief Justice admitted salary increases for herself and others had been included in the court's proposed budget under headings for "digital equipment" and "family court study."
And while Chief Justice Mimi Shearing denied she knew some of the money was hidden in the budget that the court gave the Legislature, the former director of the Nevada Supreme Court's administrative office says she did.
"I sat right next to Miriam Shearing when we went through the budget request," said Don Mello. "She voted 'yes.'"
Shearing, before a joint budget subcommittee Tuesday, had blamed Mello for the false information. Then Mello, Wednesday night, emailed most state lawmakers a copy of a letter he had faxed to Shearing.
"If you will recall," said the letter, "it was at the court's direction (all five members present as well as the court clerk) that an entry was made in the budget for 'digital equipment.' "
Mello quit his job in February shortly after Shearing, in the court's normal rotation, took over as chief justice.
He described a pre-scripted plan where Shearing was to talk privately to members of Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees before any budget hearings. Then, in the committee hearing, Shearing was to withdraw the request for the $170,000

in equipment.
"Based on your advanced lobbying it was hoped that a committee member would suggest a use for the newfound money, i.e., midterm judicial raises," Mello said.
Although voters by an 84% majority in 1994 rejected any midterm pay hikes for justices, Shearing in February asked lawmakers for an immediate $22,000 raise for herself and two other justices. Case law, she argued, would allow such a method of pay equalization for judges receiving less than colleagues because of different dates of election.
On Thursday, Shearing denied she and the other four justices had attempted to hide the pay hikes in the Supreme Court equipment budget.
"Yes, we approved putting in the salary equity," she said. "But hiding it was not part of it."
Nevertheless, however, Shearing didadmit to lawmakers at the hearing that the equipment request was a phony item actually intended to raise the pay of three justices who now make less than their two counterparts.
She said it was placed in the budget by Mello before she took over as chief

justice in January, after which she, said Shearing, had it removed.
Then, in place of the equipment item, the Supreme Court submitted a $479,942 budget item for a family court study. The 'study' was also to raise judicial salaries for the three justices, plus seven district judges.
Several lawmakers said they did not know the family court study was another strategy to secretly raise judicial salaries. Assemblywoman Kathy Von Tobel, R-Las Vegas, said she was appalled by the

back-door attempts to increase judicial pay after voters in 1994 rejected a constitutional amendment to allow midterm raises for judges.
She also expressed doubt the court's request for almost half-a-million dollars for the 'family court study' will be approved.
A study of the family court system conducted by the Legislature could be done for about $8,000, she said.

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