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Dennis Myers: Nevada loses one of its best advocates

One day, Charles and Jacqueline Springer, of Reno, learned that their dogs, nabbed by an animal control officer, had been destroyed.

Charles thought the story sounded suspicious. Animal control does not usually act that quickly, for one thing. He hired a private detective, who found witnesses to the capture. The Springers’ dogs had gotten out of their yard and were running about the little Dartmouth Drive area, a mini-community of houses built around lovely ponds. It is not actually public property, but people do drive through it.

Anyway, as I recall, the animal control officer had shot the dogs with a capture gun using tranquilizer darts that apparently had an overdose that killed the dogs. Then to cover up what happened, he destroyed the bodies in the animal control facility.

It was typical Charles Springer. Most people would have mourned their pets and then moved on. Charles grieved deeply and did not want to see something similar happen to anyone else – and, thanks to his action, animal control procedures were changed.

Charles died on the eve of his 91st birthday last month after a career that saw him serve as Nevada attorney general, Supreme Court justice, county juvenile court master, even city attorney of Gabbs. He wrote or co-authored books on the rights of women and juveniles.

At the 1960 Democratic National Convention, he bucked other Nevadans and voted for Lyndon Johnson over John Kennedy. He later served as state Democratic Party chair. As attorney general in 1962, eight years before the environmental movement emerged, he called for protections for the quality of Nevada air and water.

In 1970, Nevada students circulated petitions to put his name on the ballot as an antiwar candidate for governor. The Nevada Democratic Party went after him with a vengeance.

He took unpopular clients other lawyers didn’t want, including a fired antiwar professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and a black student threatened with expulsion from UNR.

As a Nevada justice, he advocated the rights of workers, angrily denouncing state laws that allow employers to fire their workers without cause. He attacked drug war tactics. He once told me that Nevada is so jail-crazy that it has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Think about that—higher than China or Iran.

He was not always right, any more than any of us are. He incautiously championed a local when that judge was being investigated by state and federal officials, and feelings ran high. During that period, Charles and Jacqueline were riding in a UNR homecoming parade. A shot or shots were fired at the car carrying them, hitting their driver in the head.

Charles Springer was a good man with good instincts and a mind at work. He was principled and decent – the kind of person we can no longer get to run for office.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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