Douglas touts virtues of specialty courts cut in Sandoval budget

Chief Justice Michael Douglas Monday touted the virtues of Specialty Courts to a joint session of the Senate and Assembly.

The occasion was the biennial State of the Judiciary speech to the 2011 Legislature.

"Specialty Courts benefit the country and state budgets by reducing time in jail at taxpayer expense ands allowing the individual to return to being a contributing member of our local communities," he said to an audience that included Gov. Brian Sandoval.

He said drug, mental health, DUI, prison re-entry and youth offender courts address the root causes of crime and, in 2009-10, had 5,167 people under their wings.

He said programs operated through those courts have proven they can "break the cycle of despair." He said 2,542 of those people graduated the program with mothers giving birth to 133 drug-free babies in the process.

The reference drew Douglas the only applause of his brief speech.

He said he is absolutely in favor of restoring state funding to the mental health and drug courts, which Sandoval's proposed budget would cut.

He said after his speech there are practical reasons for supporting the court in addition to the human benefits to participants and their families.

"Any time you can turn people around and not put them in jail it saves money," said Douglas.

Judges including Washoe County's Peter Breen, who helped found them, have testified against the cuts they say would effectively eliminate mental health courts.

"We are one of the cheapest and most effective tools for dealing with people who commit crimes and are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and alcohol," said Breen during budget overview hearings in January.

Douglas also praised the efforts of the Foreclosure Mediation Program established by lawmakers and developed by the courts, saying it has become a model for other states in the nation.

He said 79,232 notices of default were filed in Nevada during 2010, resulting in 8,738 requests for mediation. A total of 4,212 mediations were competed with 89 percent avoiding foreclosure. He told lawmakers 74 percent of those homeowners remained in their homes.

Douglas said like other branches of government, the courts have had to make sough choices in their proposed budget. He said the Supreme Court's proposed budget is 16.87 percent or $2.36 million less than the current budget.

"It will be challenging but we will, once again, do more with less," he said. "We understand Nevada is at crossroads."


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