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Nevada Supreme Court Justice Cherry Receives NACDL Champion of Indigent Defense Award (NACDL News)
By Ivan J. Dominguez
NACDL News columns.
At its fall board meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., NACDL presented Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry with its 2011 Champion of Indigent Defense Award. It is the first time since the award was initially presented in 2002 that a judge has received the honor.
Justice Cherry chairs the Supreme Court of Nevada’s Indigent Defense Commission, which examined how Nevada’s justice system treats criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.
As part of its work, the Indigent Defense Commission recommended performance standards for criminal defense attorneys, which were approved by the Supreme Court in 2009. The performance standards specify that attorneys take certain steps in handling cases of indigent defendants, including regular contact with their clients and comprehensive investigations of the allegations.
The Indigent Defense Commission also studied whether caseload limits should be set for public defenders in Nevada. The Commission’s Rural Sub-committee issued a report making several recommendations to improve the delivery of defense services across the state.
In correspondence notifying Justice Cherry of the award, NACDL President Lisa Wayne stated, “Your long and persistent dedication to improving indigent defense systems in the state of Nevada, and in particular your role as the chairman of the Indigent Defense Commission, is truly remarkable and is an example of how members of the judiciary can help effect meaningful reform of our criminal justice system.”
Wayne also wrote in the letter to Justice Cherry that NACDL selected him to “pay tribute to your steadfast support of the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel.”
“Justice Cherry’s passionate commitment throughout his legal career to the defense of those who cannot afford their own counsel makes him truly worthy of this award,” said Chief Justice Nancy M. Saitta. “His leadership and guidance of Nevada’s Indigent Defense Commission, and the success of the Commission during these difficult economic times, demonstrate that commitment. Our state is fortunate to have such a tireless advocate in this most important area of law,” Chief Justice Saitta said.
Justice Cherry began practicing law in Nevada in 1970, starting out as a deputy public defender before going into private practice. In 1997, Justice Cherry was appointed to lead the newly created Special Public Defender Office in Clark County, which primarily handled death penalty cases. In 1998, he was elected a district court judge and then elected to the Supreme Court in 2006.