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Ballot Question Would End Selection of Nevada’s Chief Justice by Coin Toss

October 8, 1992

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) _ In Nevada, even picking a chief justice can be a game of chance. But next month, voters will be asked to scrap the practice instituted in 1864 of tossing a coin to choose the boss of the high bench.

If approved Nov. 3, the measure also would amend the Nevada Constitution to double the term of a chief justice to four years. It would also let the chief of the five-member Supreme Court serve more than once.

Currently, the job of chief justice goes to whichever member of the court has the shortest time remaining in his or her elected six-year term. But from time to time, two justices are ″short-termers″ simultaneously. So they flip a coin.

The amendment would require the justices to select the chief by vote.

Advocates of the proposal, like Republican state Sen. Bill Raggio and Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bob Sader, a Democrat, feel it’s time to try a more modern method, noting that many government bodies elect their own leaders.

Chief Justice John Mowbray was the latest to leave his job to fate when he correctly called ″heads″ in 1990 as another justice flipped a Kennedy half- dollar. He likes taking his chances the old-fashioned way, he said.

″I think the constitutional fathers in 1864 had a lot of wisdom,″ Mowbray said.

He and others fear dropping the coin toss could lead to animosity and power-brokering.

″If you have an election among the justices, it will be controlled by them, and perhaps by other justices who have senior status,″ Mowbray said. ″This way, it breaks up the good ol’ boy system. It’s left up to fortune.″

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