Retiring Justices Strengthened Nevada Supreme Court
1/3/2019 9:26:56 AM
Chief Justice Michael L. Douglas and Associate Chief Justice Michael A. Cherry leave the bench in January 2018 after extensive careers as attorneys, judges, and justices. Both Justices acknowledge the body of their careers reveal an abundance of luck, passion, and a sense of duty to their communities and Nevada.
Chief Justice Michael L. Douglas and Associate Chief Justice Michael A. Cherry
Chief Justice Douglas started his career as a Philadelphia lawyer and never imagined he would become a District Court Judge nor a Supreme Court Justice.
Justice Douglas is the first African American Justice on the Nevada Supreme Court and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association.
In 2006, the Supreme Court created the Access to Justice Commission, where Justice Douglas became co-chair. Based on his experiences as a lawyer and judge, he led efforts to expand legal aid services and improve access to justice through pro bono and self-help services. To help fund these improvements, he pursued public and private funding to finance five legal service organizations.
He also saw the benefit of specialty courts; drug, veteran, and mental-health programs for improving people who seek help for addictions.
As a Justice, he is most proud of the work of the various Supreme Court Commissions and Committees tasked with identifying legal needs and finding solutions.
“It’s a large undertaking, but the Supreme Court has been willing to be a leader for access to justice, indigent defense, bail reform, and guardianship,” Justice Douglas said. “As a Justice, your primary job is to write your orders, your opinions, and hear or review the cases. But you have a second job which almost has an equal footing; to lead the judicial efforts in the search for justice.”
Associate Chief Justice Cherry began his career as a general practice attorney and served as Clark County Special Public Defender. The Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice recently thanked him for providing 40 years of support to criminal defense. Justice Cherry has chaired the Supreme Court’s Indigent Defense Commission since his election to the court in 2006. The Commission examines ways the justice system assists criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney.
At the end of the 2017 Nevada Legislature, then Chief Justice Cherry was instrumental in obtaining passage of SB377 establishing the Nevada Right to Counsel Commission, which will provide guidance to legislators in improving the delivery of indigent defense services in Nevada.
“My mother once called me a rebel,” said Justice Cherry. “Throughout my legal and judicial career I have never accepted ‘that’s how we do it.’ I always think there has to be another way. Still that doesn’t mean I’ve been against status quo. I think you need to balance status quo and change.”
Justice Cherry supervised the Senior Justice and Senior Judge program and appointed Judge Abbi Silver as the first female Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.
In 1981, Justice Cherry became known across the United States for his role as Special Master in the MGM Grand Hotel Fire Litigation, and two years later, he assumed the duties of Special Master for the Las Vegas Hilton Fire Litigation. His work as Special Master gained nationwide recognition and established procedures adopted by most mass disaster litigations.
Justice Cherry took his skills to the Clark County District Court when he was elected to a judgeship in 1998. He was instrumental in establishing the Construction Defect Courts in response to entire subdivisions making claims on issues such as poor workmanship or the use of inferior materials.
“I was able to accomplish my goals as a Justice because of the vast range of experiences I had as a public defender, attorney for 20 years, Special Master, Special Public Defender, Judge and Justice. I’m very proud of my career.”
At the December meeting of the Howard D. McKibben Chapter of the American Inns of Court in Las Vegas, Justices Douglas and Cherry received recognition for their service to the legal community. They also received awards for their support of Hope for Prisoners for “championing justice for all but never forgetting those who have paid their debts to society.” Hope for Prisoners offers education and training to assist former prisoners make the transition back into the community.
In retirement, the Justices will become Senior Justices, with Justice Douglas initially being assigned to preside as a Court of Appeals Judge until the judicial selection process is completed.