PAHRUMP, Nev. (KLAS) — The Nevada Attorney General’s Office filed a petition with the state supreme court Tuesday, asking justices to weigh in on a dispute involving the removal of a firearms ban in a Nye County building, which also serves as the county courthouse.
In a meeting on Dec. 16, Nye County 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.
Last month, in an attempt to skirt a potential challenge at the state supreme court, the commissioners voted to move two district courtrooms from a county complex to new buildings over the judicial order banning weapons in the county complex. The county owns the building, but the judiciary runs the courtrooms.
Under state law, the county is required to provide the judiciary with space and pay for utilities.
As the 8 News Now I-Team has reported, 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.
The judges’ say to ban weapons, according to the commissioners, does not apply outside of their chambers. That includes most of the building, including the hallways.
“When the district judges reasonably extended the prohibition to areas surrounding and adjacent to the courtrooms, the county commissioners voted to remove the signage,” Tuesday’s filing to the high court said. “When that failed to deter the district judges from enforcing the prohibition, the commissioners voted to evict the judges from the county’s existing courthouses in Pahrump and Tonopah, leaving them with no suitable place to conduct judicial proceedings.”
Speaking with the I-Team in February, District Court Judge Kim Wanker said 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.”
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.
“Here, the commissioners’ unprecedented attack on the independence of the Fifth Judicial District Court warrants the Supreme Court’s immediate attention,” the filing said. “Since Nevada’s district courts have equal and coextensive jurisdiction, the commissioners’ decision to shutter Nye County’s existing courthouses limits statewide public access to the courts.”
The filing indicates the buildings where the county plans to move the courts, one in Tonopah and one in Pahrump, are inadequate.
During May’s vote to move the courts, the board unanimously voted to move the district court from the complex, citing the high cost of a potential legal battle, but “did not indicate how Nye County will bear these financial burdens,” the filing said.
The filing asks the high court to consider keeping the district court in its current location with the order in place. There was no indication of when a ruling could be expected.