Strategies, Challenges, and Answers

Nevada Desperately Needs A Court Of Appeals

OnionIn April 2012, Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan tried to give the family dog Onion a kiss good night.  He stumbled onto the dog.  Onion instinctively grabbed the little boy.  Immediate intervention by the family was not enough to save Jermiah from the dog’s unprecedented response.  Jeremiah died.

The City of Henderson wanted to immediately euthanize the dog claiming that the six-year-old Mastif-Rhodesian mix was a danger to the community.  The Lexus Project, a dog rescue organization, intervened.  The Lexus Project argued that the dog is not vicious and should be spared.

The District Court authorized the City of Henderson to euthanize the dog.  The Lexus Project appealed.  Now, over a year later, the case was just recently argued before the Nevada Supreme Court.  For more details, see the Las Vegas Review Journal.  It will be months more before the Court issues its final written decision.  All the while, Onion waits in a segregation cage in Henderson.

Why is this painful case taking so long?  The Editorial Board of the Review Journal complains that the case is wasting the court’s time and that the dog should be put down.  But the Nevada Supreme Court is the only appellate avenue available to the parties.  In addition, the Nevada Supreme Court has one of the highest, if not the highest, caseloads of mandatory-review cases per justice in the country.  See Chief Justice Pickering’s 2013 State of the Judiciary Message.  For this reason, delays before the Nevada Supreme Court are regretfully common.

But imagine what might have been if Nevada voters had approved the creation of a proposed Court of Appeals in 2010.  Had there been a Court of Appeals, would Onion’s case have stalled for more than a year between the filing of the appeal and the hearing on the merits?  Would the parties still be waiting additional months for the final decision to be written?  Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Kristina Pickering believes that creating a Court of Appeals will “speed up dispositions, not delay them.”  Obviously, a speedy disposition would be best for all parties involved in Onion’s case.

Chief Justice Pickering also explained that supreme courts are most effectively used when they interpret unsettled issues of constitutional and statutory law and write opinions that will add to the body of decisional law.  The case of Onion is not such a case.  Rather, Onion’s case is one where the appellate court must closely examine the facts and decide if the lower court correctly interpreted and applied settled law.  Onion’s case is one that would have been justly and swiftly handled by a Court of Appeal.

It is ironic that the Las Vegas Review Journal advocates swift justice in Onion’s case and thinks that this case is a waste of the Supreme Court’s time but at least in 2010 was opposed to attempts to create the Court of Appeals.

Fortunately, the Nevada Legislature just passed SJR 14 putting the question of establishing a Nevada Court of Appeal on the ballot.  While the creation of a Court of Appeals will not impact Onion’s case, parties in similar cases will be better served if Nevada creates a Court of Appeals.  Therefore, I urge all Nevadans to support the campaign in favor of a Court of Appeals and to vote in the affirmative when the question appears on the ballot.


  1. Joseph R. Martan says

    The poor animal is going to be put down – the Supreme Court won’t give it mercy. Why not contact a national animal rescue organization like Best Friends animal society in Kanab, Utah? In previous situations they have taken possession of dogs who were judicially condemned on the proviso that the animal would live out its days at Best Friends’ facilities (which are a very nice home for animals). Certainly, even the family would approve of this solution to avoid putting down an animal who only acted out of instinct.

    • Everyone who knows this case has an opinion about what the court should do. But in my post, I didn’t intend to re-argue the legal technicalities or ethical questions raised by Onion’s case. Instead, I use the case to illustrate why Nevada needs a Court of Appeals. The final decision, whatever it might be, is taking too long. A Court of Appeals could have substantially sped up this process. That is why I am arguing that the Nevada Electorate should approve the adoption of a Court of Appeals when that appears on their ballots. Mike