PAHRUMP, Nev. (KLAS) — The Nye County Board of Commissioners voted in December to allow guns in most parts of the county’s courthouses, but the judges, who decide the fates of their neighbors, tell the 8 News Now I-Team that decision is asking for trouble.
In a meeting on Dec. 16, the commissioners unanimously voted to remove a judicial order banning firearms in the Ian Deutch Government Complex, which houses both the Fifth Judicial District Court and the Pahrump Justice Court.
The county owns the building. The judiciary runs the courtrooms.
The judges’ say, according to the commissioners, does not apply outside of their chambers. That includes most of the building, including the hallways.
District Court Judge Kim Wanker’s concerns about her safety have prompted her to keep a gun safe on her bench.
“I am certain it’s an incident waiting to happen,” she said. “It’s not if it happens, it’s when it happens.”
Wanker’s courtroom is through a set of double doors straight from the building’s lobby. When court is in session, her bailiff, a position recently vacant for a year, she said, will set up a metal detector at the courtroom door.
There is no security at the main entrance, which leads to the district attorney’s office and to the clerk. County commissioners said they control the halls. A Nevada state law gives the control of county buildings to their respective commissioners.
In Clark County, entrances to the Regional Justice Center, home to the Eighth Judicial District Court and Las Vegas Justice Court, are flanked with security. The building also houses the Clark County District Attorney’s Office.
“I think that probably the greatest threat or risk for an incident is in the hallways or in the parking lot,” Wanker said.
The four judges working out of the building enter through the same doors as the public.
The judges park out front, too.
“We have a joke here,” Wanker said. “They finally approved the lighting to come in the front door. My staff laughs and says, ‘Judge we’re so glad that they improved the lighting because now when they shoot from the dark parking lot, they’ll be sure to get you and not us.’”
Wanker gave the I-Team a tour of the complex, which shares an address with the Nye County Sheriff’s Office and the Nye County Jail.
A back door does not lock. It is right next to Wanker’s courtroom and the way prisoners enter the court complex from jail, she said.
In 2010, after several shootings at courthouses, including one at the federal building in Las Vegas, District Court Judge Robert Lane wrote an order forbidding firearms in the building and the court’s other office in Tonopah. Instead, county employees could apply to carry concealed weapons.
The judicial order specifically mentions the “courthouse” and its “courtrooms, chambers, offices, annexes” and other rooms where a judicial proceeding may be underway.
Commissioner Bruce Jabbour, appointed to the commission in 2020 by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, applied to carry his concealed weapon as the order dictates.
Jabbour’s request was denied.
“Judge Lane and Judge Wanker have serious concerns for their safety, but obviously, no concern for the safety of others, including myself,” Jabbour said during the December meeting.
In a 5-0 vote, the commissioners removed the order, meaning weapons would be allowed in the building except in immediate courtrooms and judicial offices. When the I-Team visited the complex, the signs remained on the doors.
Metal detectors remain in place at the entrance to the justice court, which was added to the building after it was built in 1999.
“The court has no right to control access to these governmental offices simply because they’re in the same building as the court,” Jabbour said.
“Technically, based on the decision, you could walk in with an AR-15 rifle,” Wanker said.
Three of the judges working in the building, Lane, Wanker and Justice Court Judge Kent Jasperson, said the issue is not about the Second Amendment. They are all gun owners.
The county’s bargaining agreement with the Nye County Employee Association said employees can be terminated for bringing a gun to work.
“The county shall have the right to discharge or discipline any employee for cause… [for] carrying or possessing firearms or weapons while on the job,” a line in the agreement said.
“You don’t need to have a gun here to resolve an issue,” Jasperson said. “The only thing a gun is going to do is aggravate the situation.”
“It’s kind of an old West cowboy kind of thing,” Lane said. “’We’ll have the shootout.’”
Security measures, like a $90,000 scanner, sit in storage. The judges said the county will not pay to staff it.
The scanner, paid for with grant money received through then-Sen. Harry Reid’s office, has sat in a storeroom for a decade, Wanker said.
“Just because we’re rural, doesn’t mean incidents aren’t going to happen,” she said.
The I-Team asked the Nye County Sheriff’s Office for a list of calls to the complex over the last 10 years. Deputies responded to the courts for everything from assaults to domestic disputes to threats.
Just last summer, a man who got into a shootout with deputies had threatened to come to the courthouse, Wanker said.
“I ran from office to office pounding on the doors telling people to get away from the windows, active shooter on their way,” she said.
The order also applies to the district’s second location in Tonopah.
Jabbour declined an interview, saying his comments from the meeting would suffice. The board chair did not respond to a request for comment.