Nevada Regent Patrick Carter says he wants applicants to know the process for choosing a new Chancellor is not rigged in favor of Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, though he says Regent Rick Trachok “and some of our northern regents are interested in having him” on the board.
“I personally have not been lobbied,” says Carter, who serves on the Search Committee narrowing choices for the entire board’s approval. “I heard way prior to knowing, before this person was applying, that Trachok was pushing for a judge to be chancellor.”
Trachok, who also serves on the six-member Search Committee, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. He represents Northern Nevada, as does committee chairwoman Carol Del Carlo.
“The important thing is I want all the candidates to know it’s not a done deal,” Carter said during an interview.
Carter and other regents are questioning the Nevada System of Higher Education’s (NSHE) decision to file a petition with the Supreme Court, on which Hardesty serves, asking the court to essentially strike a constitutional provision that prohibits a sitting judge from being appointed to an office other than a judicial one.
On March 18, NSHE filed its petition. Two days later Hardesty filed a writ asking his court colleagues to decide the same issue. Hardesty recused from the case.
NSHE says it was unaware Hardesty intended to file his own petition.
Hardesty’s counsel, Therese Shanks, says her client was “entitled to his own brief on these issues.”
“We have followed the appropriate procedures to bring this before the Nevada Supreme Court, and we are confident that the Nevada Supreme Court will follow the appropriate ethical procedures to decide this matter expeditiously and impartially,” she said.
Article 6, Section 11 of the Nevada Constitution says “The justices of the Supreme Court, the judges of the court of appeals and the district judges are ineligible to any office, other than a judicial office, during the term for which they have been elected or appointed. All elections or appointments of any such judges by the people, Legislature or otherwise during said period to any office other than judicial are void.”
NSHE Attorney Joseph Reynolds writes the purpose of Article 6, Section 11 is to uphold the separation of the judiciary from politics. He goes on to argue the position of Chancellor is not really an office for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he or she can be terminated.
“I was surprised that we filed a petition,” says Carter. “Chair (Jason) Geddes and the search committee chair never consulted the board. That would be something we should consider.”
“We (the System) asked for it before he (Justice Hardesty) was a finalist,” Carter said. “We hadn’t done first-round interviews yet. I, for one, don’t know him at all so I can’t tell you if he’s qualified or not.”
Del Carlo, chair of the search committee, did not respond to requests for comment. Geddes declined to comment on the process.
“If someone wants to apply for a position and there’s a potential issue with qualification, the onus should be on the applicant, not the employer to seek resolution,” said Regent Trevor Hayes. “I was a little surprised the System started the process.”
“I believe it is on the applicant and/or the search firm to determine eligibility,” said Regent Laura Perkins, adding she’s concerned about anything that makes “the Board of Regents appear as anything other than dedicated to the betterment of higher education in Nevada.”
Numerous regents and others within NSHE who asked not to be named say Trachok, who announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election to the Board of Regents, intended to run for Supreme Court until he was sidelined by bad publicity — allegations that as chair of the board, he attempted to unduly influence the last search for a chancellor in 2017.
The search effort was scrapped and current Chancellor Thom Reilly stepped in temporarily. He intends to leave the post this year.
The Board of Regents was scheduled to meet June 18 to select a chancellor, however, the process may be postponed because of COVID-19.