HONORABLE CATHERINE RAMSEY, NORTH LAS VEGAS MUNICIPAL JUDGE, Appellant,
THE CITY OF NORTH LAS VEGAS; BARBARA A. ANDOLINA, CITY CLERK OF NORTH LAS VEGAS; BETTY HAMILTON; MICHAEL WILLIAM MORENO; AND BOB BORGERSEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MEMBERS OF "REMOVE RAMSEY NOW, " Respondents.
from a district court order denying injunctive relief and
dismissing an action concerning the recall of a public
officer. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Eric
Mueller Hinds & Associates, Chtd., and Craig A. Mueller
and Steven M. Goldstein, Las Vegas, for Appellant.
& Wilmer, LLP, and Patrick G. Byrne, Richard C. Gordon,
and Daniel S. I vie, Las Vegas, for Respondents the City of
North Las Vegas and Barbara A. Andolina, City Clerk of North
Gentile, Cristalli, Miller, Armeni & Savarese and Dominic
P. Gentile, Colleen E. McCarty, and Ross J. Miller, Las
Vegas, for Respondents Betty Hamilton, Michael William
Moreno, and Bob Borgersen, individually and as members of
Remove Ramsey Now.
Lemons, Grundy & Eisenberg and Robert L. Eisenberg, Reno,
for Amicus Curiae Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction.
THE COURT EN BANC 
1976, amid growing concern that no central administrative
authority existed to unify Nevada courts and that this
state's judges were not being held to uniform and
consistent standards, Nevada's voters approved the
creation of the Commission on Judicial Discipline (the
Commission) through constitutional amendment to provide for a
standardized system of judicial governance. This amendment
provides for the removal of judges from office as a form of
discipline. Thus, in conjunction with the Commission's
creation, a new Code of Judicial Conduct was developed with
the expectation that these measures would promote judicial
independence and political neutrality, while at the same time
improving the public's ability to hold judges accountable
for their conduct in office.
of individuals within the City of North Las Vegas seeks to
remove a municipal judge, not through the system of judicial
discipline established by the majority of voters in 1976, but
through a special recall election. Whether the existing state
constitutional provision providing for the recall of
"public officers, " Article 2, Section 9, applies
to judges has not been previously considered by this court.
However, even if the recall of public officers provision is
interpreted to include judges, we conclude that the
voters' subsequent approval of the system for judicial
discipline, which plainly grants the Commission the exclusive
authority to remove a judge from office with only one
exception, the legislative power of impeachment, supersedes
any provision that would allow for judges to be recalled by
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2011 local election, City of North Las Vegas voters elected
appellant Catherine Ramsey to a six-year term as a municipal
judge. Before Ramsey's term expired, a group called
"Remove Ramsey Now" created a recall petition seeking
to force an election to remove her from office. The group
alleged that Ramsey improperly used city assets for personal
use, was excessively absent from work, and mistreated staff
and other people in her courtroom. After gathering signatures,
Remove Ramsey Now submitted the recall petition for
verification to respondent Barbara Andolina, city clerk for
respondent City of North Las Vegas. Sufficient signatures
were certified, and the Secretary of State deemed the
sought an emergency injunction from the district court and
also later filed a complaint challenging the legal
sufficiency of the recall petition. Ramsey argued that judges
are not "public officers" subject to recall under
Article 2, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution, and that
even if they once were, the voters' approval of the
judicial discipline process in 1976 superseded all other
forms of judicial removal except legislative impeachment. She
also asserted that various issues with respect to notice of
the signature verification process and the form of the
petition violated her constitutional rights and invalidated
district court consolidated the two actions. After a two-day
evidentiary hearing, the district court denied all of
Ramsey's claims, concluding that judges were public
officers subject to recall under the Nevada Constitution and
that Ramsey's rights ultimately were not violated. Ramsey
court reviews questions of constitutional interpretation de
novo. Lawrence v. Clark Cty., 127 Nev. 390, 393, 254
P.3d 606, 608 (2011). In interpreting an amendment to our
Constitution, we look to rules of statutory interpretation to
determine the intent of both the drafters and the electorate
that approved it. Landreth v. Malik, 127 Nev. 175,
180, 251 P.3d 163, 166 (2011); Halverson v. Sec'y of
State, 124 Nev. 484, 488, 186 P.3d 893, 897 (2008). We
first examine the provision's language.
Landreth, 127 Nev. at 180, 251 P.3d at 166. If
plain, we look no further, but if not, "we look to the
history, public policy, and reason for the provision."
Id. When so doing, we keep in mind that "a
contemporaneous construction by the [L]egislature of a
constitutional provision is a safe guide to its proper
interpretation and creates a strong presumption that the
interpretation was proper, " because it is likely that
legislation drafted near in time to the constitutional
provision reflects the constitutional drafters' mindset.
Halverson, 124 Nev. at 488-89, 186 P.3d at 897
(internal quotations omitted); Porch v. Patterson,
39 Nev. 251, 260, 156 P. 439, 442 (1916) (Coleman, J.,
recall of "public officer[s]" has been available in
Nevada since Article 2, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution
was adopted in 1912. In its current form, the article
provides, in part, that
[e]very public officer in the State of Nevada is subject, as
herein provided, to recall from office by the registered
voters of the state, or of the county, district, or
municipality which he represents.
force a recall election, at least 25 percent of the number of
voters voting in the election in which the subject official
was elected must sign a petition demanding the public
officer's recall and setting forth the reasons therefor.
Nev. Const, art. 2, § 9. If the public officer does not
resign, a special election must be held. Id.
term "public officer" is not expressly defined in
the Nevada Constitution, and no prior judicial decision by
this court has considered whether judges are within the scope
of Article 2, Section 9. However, other states with similar
constitutional provisions have decided, either expressly or
impliedly, that "public officers" include judges.
and Washington each added amendments providing for the recall
of "public officers" at around the same time Nevada
adopted Article 2, Section 9. See Idaho Const, art.
VI, § 6 (added 1911, ratified 1912); Wash. Const, art.
I, § 33-34 (adopted by amendment 1911, approved 1912).
Article VI, Section 6 of Idaho's constitution provides
that "[e]very public officer . . ., excepting the
judicial officers, is subject to recall." Similarly,
Article I, Section 33 of Washington's constitution
provides that "[e]very elective public officer in the
state of Washington expect [except] judges of courts of
record is subject to recall, " (Alteration in original).
Idaho's and Washington's explicit exclusion of judges
from their respective recall provisions implies that judges
are included in the term "public officer."
Colorado, and Oregon also adopted constitutional; recall
provisions around the same time as Nevada, which also use the
term "public officer, " but did not specifically
exclude judicial officers. See Ariz. Const, art.
VIII, pt. 1, § 1; Colo. Const, art. XXI, § 1; Or.
Const, art. II, § 18(1). In each of these states, the
courts implicitly concluded that members of the judiciary
were considered public officers and thus subject to recall
pursuant to their constitutions. See Abbey v. Green,
235 P. 150, 152 (Ariz. 1925); Marians v. People ex rel.
Hines, 69 P. 155, 155 (Colo. 1917); State ex rel.
Clark v. Harris, 144 P. 109, 110 (Or. 1914).
like our sister states, believe that judges are public
officers for purposes of Nevada's constitutional recall
provision adopted in 1912. However, even if judges originally
could be recalled, Ramsey argues j that the creation of the
Commission in 1976 superseded any such recall authority over
judges. We agree.
voters entrusted the Commission with the power to remove
judges from office under Article 6, Section 21. In 1967, the
Nevada Legislature convened a commission to complete a
comprehensive study of the organization and structure of the
Nevada court system. Legislative Commission of the
Legislative Counsel Bureau, Nevada's Court
Structure, Bulletin No. 74, at 23 (1968) (citing S. Con.
Res. 18, 54th Leg. (Nev. 1967)). In exploring the election
and removal of judges with a view toward promoting an
independent judiciary under a uniform court system, the
legislative commission recommended modifying the court
structure in two major respects. First, it suggested that the
system be changed so that judges were appointed, rather than
elected. Id. at 31-32. Second, the legislative
commission recognized that election was also an ineffective
and haphazard way to remove judges who were not performing
their duties, and that an impartial removal process conducted
by an informed, investigative body was necessary.
Id., at 33-34. The legislative commission believed
that a board comprised of laypersons and judges alike should
be able to investigate complaints against a judge and would
be in a better position to evaluate the performance of a
judge and recommend corrective action, if warranted.
Id. at 33.
the same time, various bills in the Legislature introduced
the idea of the Commission, a neutral board that would have
authority to discipline and remove judges from office.
See Hearing on A.J.R. 5 Before the Assembly
Judiciary Comm. 54th Leg. (Nev., March 29, 1967) (no
action-held for future bill); Hearing on S.J.R. 23 Before the
Senate Judiciary Comm., 55th Leg. (Nev., March 20, 1969)
(complete revision of Article 6, defeated by the voters in
1972); Hearing on S.J.R. 23 Before the Senate Judiciary
Comm., 56th Leg. (Nev., January 19, 1971) (same); Hearing on
A.J.R. 16 Before the Assembly Judiciary Comm., 57th Leg.
(Nev., March 6, 1973) (proposed creating the Commission
only); Hearing on A.J.R. 16 Before the Assembly Judiciary
Comm., 58th Leg. (Nev., May 6, 1975) (same; enrolled and
delivered to Secretary of State and approved by voters in
1976). Although the voters rejected a large-scale revision of
the court structure in 1972, including a plan to appoint
judges, they individually approved several aspects of that
revision in 1976, including vesting this court with authority
over all other Nevada courts and the creation of the
Commission. Nev. Const, art. 6, §§ 19, 21.
enacted in 1976, Article 6, Section 21(1) states, in relevant
part, as follows:
A justice of the [S]upreme [C]ourt, a district judge, a
justice of the peace or a municipal judge may, in
addition to the provision of Article 7 for impeachment,
be censured, retired, removed or otherwise disciplined by the
commission on judicial discipline.
(Emphasis added.) The emphasized language providing the
single exception-for impeachment by the Legislature under
Article 7-is, Ramsey asserts, proof that all other means of
removing judges were superseded when the Nevada Constitution
was amended to create the Commission.
solidify the process of judicial discipline, along with the
Commission as the enforcer of such discipline, work began in
1975 to create a comprehensive and enforceable code of
judicial conduct, fashioned after the model code adopted by
the American Bar Association. Hearing on S.B. 453 Before the
Assembly Judiciary Comm., 59th Leg. (Nev., April 20, 1977).
The resulting Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct (NCJC) was
adopted in 1977. NCJC (1977). Testimony during the
legislative hearing confirmed that the NCJC was intended to
further the Legislature's goals of unifying the court
system in an arrangement under which all judges were held to
the same standards, enforced by the Commission and this
court. Hearing on S.B. 453 Before the Assembly Judiciary
Comm., 59th Leg. (Nev., April 20, 1977) (testimony of Judge
Richard Minor, President, Nevada Judges Association); see
also Hearing on S.B. 453 Before the Senate Judiciary
Comm., 59th Leg. (Nev., April 13, 1977) (Ex. B, letter from
Justice E.M. Gunderson to Governor Mike
legislative history demonstrates that, at the time Article 6,
Section 21 was approved by the voters, the Commission was
viewed as integral to protecting the judiciary's
independence throughout the unified court system by providing
a means by which all judges would be held to objective,
established standards enforced in a consistent manner. Given
this history and the seemingly intentional decision by the
Legislature as the drafters of the constitutional amendment
to omit any reference to recall in Article 6, Section 21, the
provision must be read as the exclusive means of judicial
removal except for legislative impeachment.
face, Article 6, Section 21 expressly retains legislative
impeachment as a means of removal but does not mention the
Article 2, Section 9 recall provision. We are compelled to
conclude that Article 6, Section 21 can be read no way other
than as providing the exclusive means for judicial ...