Sisolak promises legal representation for poor via new state department

scales of justice blue
(Getty Images)
scales of justice blue
(Getty Images)

A more than decade-long effort to provide the poor with legal services is nearing fruition with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s naming Tuesday of an executive director to the newly created Department of Indigent Services and appointment of ten Nevadans to the Board on Indigent Defense Services (BIDS).

“Indigent defense has gotten short shrift in Nevada for far too long, and I am thrilled to see that we will finally be adopting consistent standards and regulations to protect defendants’ constitutional right to receive fair and competent legal representation,” Sisolak said in a release.  

The board’s creation dates back to 2007, when then-Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry convened the Indigent Defense Commission, which made recommendations and filed its report with the Court in November 2007. 

Eight years later, in 2015, the Supreme Court issued an order banning flat fee contracts for indigent defense services, gave the State Public Defender’s Office responsibility for rural death penalty cases and appeals, and recommended the implementation of an Indigent Defense Board.   

The board, mandated by Assembly Bill 81 passed by the 2019 Legislature, will have 13 voting members and up to three non-voting members, all appointed to three-year terms. The remaining appointments will be made by the Speaker, Majority Leader, and Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, according to the release. 

“Each appointed member has demonstrated experience providing legal representation to indigent persons who are charged with public offenses or to children who are alleged to be delinquent or in need of supervision,” the release from the governor’s office said. “Also, each member has signified commitment to providing effective legal representation to indigent persons.”

Sisolak also announced the state’s chief public defender, Marcie Ryba, will serve as executive director of the Department of Indigent Services.   

The appointments are: 

  • Julie Cavanaugh-Bill of Elko, whose Linkedin account states she has experience in child welfare, civil rights, and indigent rights. 
  • Joni Eastley of Nye County is a commissioner for the Nevada Rural Housing Authority Board.
  • Laura Fitzsimmons of Carson City is an eminent domain attorney who helped Sisolak win a $23.5 million case against Clark County.  
  • Robert Crowell is the retired partner of the law firm Kaempfer Crowell. 
  • David Mendiola is the County Administrator of Humboldt County
  • Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichmann (Nye)
  • Drew Christensen is the director of the Office of Appointed Counsel in Clark County. 
  • Jeff Wells is an assistant Clark County manager. 
  • Kate Thomas is an assistant manager for Washoe County. 
  • Robert Telles is the Clark County Public Administrator
Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.