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Judge spars with Nye County over court order

Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Kim Wanker has issued an official order demanding that the Nye County Sheriff’s Office provide her department with the funds necessary to hire a full-time law clerk at roughly $100,000 per year, sparking a tense conflict between the judge and certain Nye County commissioners during a June 4 commission meeting.

In the order, Wanker asserts that Nevada Revised Statute 3.100 requires that Nye County provide adequate courtroom facilities and support staff for the Fifth Judicial District Court. Under Nevada Revised Statute 3.100(2) it states that if the county does not provide what is needed to run the courtroom, the court may direct the sheriff to provide whatever is lacking.

Wanker said she feels her request for a full-time law clerk is justified and necessary and therefore, the county must fund the position. However, the county has refused to do so and as such, she issued the order for a full-time, permanent law clerk, filing that order on May 29.

During the June 4 meeting, the commission went into closed session to discuss the item confidentially before reopening the meeting to the public and addressing the item on the record.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman began by suggesting the board direct county staff to work with the Nye County District Attorney’s Office to determine the options available to the county but Wanker quickly interjected.

“I want you to know this is a valid court order,” Wanker asserted, noting that she had attempted to work with county staff before finally going to the commission, only to be repeatedly denied her request. “So this isn’t a request for you to do something, this is a court order. I want to make that abundantly clear. I am forced to do this.”

Wanker explained that she did not intend to show disrespect by issuing the order but she felt she must do so, due to a 2018 opinion issued by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, which arose from a very similar situation with another judge.

“This particular judge received discipline and the basis for the discipline was that, when his position (request) was denied, he did not order the Mineral County Board of County Commissioners to staff and fund that position. So you have to understand the position the court is in,” Wanker stated. “The court did not want to put the commission in this position but I was forced to. If you deny it, quite frankly, I have no other recourse but to issue an order to show cause…”

“I get that,” Wichman rebutted. “But from the county’s perspective you need to understand what our jobs are and we have done our jobs… That’s our job, to watch the budget. If the money isn’t there for you to have what you’ve demanded then we have to take it from someplace else. If there is not another department that we can easily take it from then our budget is out of whack.”

Wanker seemed irritated by Wichman’s comments, remarking that she felt there were things that Wichman was not aware of. Wanker cited the approval by county staff of $4,000 for lights and sirens for a bailiff’s car that does not even have the power to conduct a traffic stop and the decision to hire former Nye County District Attorney Angela Bello on the county payroll just long enough to allow her to qualify for Public Employee Retirement System payments, among many other financial decisions.

“If we don’t have money to fund our statutory obligations than why are we funding all these other things that are unnecessary?” Wanker demanded to know.

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo jumped into the strained conversation to throw his weight behind the suggestion to direct staff to review the county’s options with the DA. He also added direction to detail financial figures to determine if there was funding available for the law clerk position. The goal, he said, was to find a solution that would leave all parties involved satisfied.

“I don’t have time to fight over this, look, I have a job to do and that is to be a judge,” Wanker asserted after several more minutes of contentious back-and-forth debate. “I don’t have time to constantly fight with county staff. Every time I ask for something, it’s defer, deflect, and nothing gets done. And I can’t do it anymore. This won’t be the first court order or the only court order if I can’t get the things I need to do my job.”

Further wrangling between the commission and Wanker ensued before Wichman decided to change tack and alter her previous direction to staff.

“I’d like to withdraw my directions to staff and make a motion to direct staff to pursue an appeal with the DA’s office,” Wichman said, with Nye County Commissioner Debra Strickland seconding the motion. Strickland remarked that she was uncertain whether Wanker even had the authority to demand the funding for the position.

Wanker, with evident frustration, responded with a warning that the county would have “a real rough row to hoe” in trying to deny her order when it has provided funding to a variety of other items and projects that were not necessary.

Blundo said he was no longer supportive of the course the item had taken, stating that he wanted to pursue a solution that was amenable to all, not push for an appeal.

“There has been a lack of respect for the judge, I don’t like the way you people are talking to the judge, I think it’s out of line,” Blundo interjected. “I just have a hard time with this item. I thought what I said was reasonable… we were going to look at all our options and then this just completely took and steered it into a direction I do not agree with.”

As the item drew to a close, Wichman took a moment to clarify that the matter was not a personal one, stating that in fact, she has a high level of respect for Wanker and they are even friends. However, that did not change her stance, with Wichman detailing, “This has nothing to do with Kim Wanker as a person… this does have everything to do with being given a court order. That I don’t care for and that is what I wanted to pursue.”

Strickland added, “That’s ditto for me. I don’t believe this is proper procedure.”

The motion to push back against the order by directing staff to pursue an appeal passed 3-2 with commissioners John Koenig, Wichman and Strickland in favor and commissioners Blundo and Cox against.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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