Justice Deborah Agosti, under fire for writing a Nevada Supreme Court opinion to temporarily let lawmakers approve tax hikes without a mandatory two-thirds' supermajority, said Thursday she has decided against seeking re-election.
Agosti said the tax decision wasn't a factor in her decision against seeking a second six-year term on the state's highest court. She said a heart condition resulted in a brief hospital stay earlier this year, and her doctor advised her against "the rigors of a campaign."
An emotional Agosti, near tears at times, said she believed she'd win if she ran for re-election, but added, "I am unwilling to jeopardize my health or compromise my commitment to my family in order to pursue that ambition."
"I love my job but it just that - a job," said Agosti, 52, adding that as a single mother she looked forward to having more time with her 14- and 16-year-old sons, who were present for her announcement in the Supreme Court chambers.
Agosti also said she was disappointed that there had been so much media focus on the high court's 6-1 decision last summer that helped end a legislative deadlock over taxes and clear the way for a record $633 million tax increase.
She ticked off a list of accomplishments by the court during her term, including jury system improvements, expanded legal services for the poor, a friendly atmosphere among justices compared with animosity that had persisted years ago, an end to a big case backlog, more public access through the Internet and other improvements.
Referring to the court's tax ruling, Agosti said, "There's so much more to this court than that."
Besides the cardiac condition, Agosti said she also had a disk deterioration in her neck. Neither health problem is life-threatening, she added.
But while she'd have no problems dealing with the day-to-day workload of the court, Agosti said, "I have been advised that the rigors of a campaign, with the nearly nonstop travel and appearances necessitated by Nevada's vast geography, would be detrimental to my health."
The news conference was held a day ahead of a Friday fund-raiser that had been planned to help raise money for her campaign.
Agosti was the first woman elected to the justice court in Washoe County, where she served two years. She and Robin Wright were the first women elected to the district court in Washoe County. Agosti served 14 years in that job before running for and winning a job on the Supreme Court.
With Agosti's Supreme Court seat opening up, Nevada voters will decide three state Supreme Court contests in November.
Chief Justice Miriam Shearing, the first woman elected to the Supreme Court, already has said she's not seeking a third term; and Justice Myron Leavitt died in January, causing a third vacancy.
Chief Clark County District Judge Michael Douglas was chosen last month by Gov. Kenny Guinn to replace Leavitt. Douglas, the first black justice in the 140-year history of the court, will hold the seat for the rest of this year and must file for election if he wants a full term.
Candidates for Agosti's seat include John Mason, an entertainment attorney and former head of the state Republican Party, who said he's running because of the court's decision last July on taxes. Besides Mason, the race is expected to attract Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Douglas Smith and Clark County Probate Commissioner Don Ashworth.
Expected candidates for Chief Justice Shearing's seat include Washoe County Chief District Judge Jim Hardesty and Clark County Family Court Judge Cynthia Dianne Steel.
Agosti's news conference was held the same day a federal court panel heard arguments about the Supreme Court decision that helped to break last year's legislative stalemate over taxes.
A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel, meeting at Stanford University Law School, considered whether a U.S. District Court judge erred in dismissing a challenge of the ruling.
The case, filed by 24 Republican state lawmakers and others, stems from a battle over record tax increases and the court ruling that an "irreconcilable conflict" existed between two constitutional mandates to fund public schools and to require a two-thirds vote on any tax increases - and schools came first.