Can you name a judge in this valley? Just one?
Tragically, most people cannot identify their representatives on school boards, city councils, county boards or in state legislatures. Heck, polling consistently shows between 15 percent and 30 percent of Americans can’t identify the vice president. About two-thirds of Americans can’t name a single U.S. Supreme Court justice. I wonder how many people in prison can name the judge who sentenced them.
Which brings us to Nevada’s upcoming primary election.
Clark County voters never get excited about primaries, no matter when they’re held. Between 2004 and 2010, statewide primaries were shifted from September to August to June, with county turnout peaking at 27 percent and bottoming out at about 15 percent. The bigger numbers have been driven by spirited partisan battles, such as the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
That presents all sorts of challenges for dozens of District Court candidates. Although their nonpartisan races will appear on every primary ballot — thus giving every registered voter a reason to go to the polls — their civil nature and lack of party agitation makes them low-profile contests. The Republican primary for lieutenant governor and the crowded race for Clark County sheriff — both offices are being vacated by incumbents — will dominate press coverage, making it that much tougher for judicial candidates to build any kind of name recognition beyond the legal community.
This year’s election compounds the difficulty, however, because every District Court department is on the ballot. The days of staggered and shortened terms are over. About 20 judges drew no challengers and are guaranteed re-election to six-year terms, but 10 departments attracted at least three candidates, including eight lawyers vying for the Family Court Department B seat. In all, 10 state judgeships will be on the June ballot featuring 39 candidates. The top two finishers in each of those races will advance to November’s ballot, when 28 District Court judgeships featuring 56 candidates will be on the ballot.
The fact that District Court races won’t be on a Clark County ballot again until 2020 helps explain the number of candidates, as well as the number of highly experienced candidates seeking election this year. Any attorney who harbors any ambition to become a District Court judge will be six years older if he or she waits until “next time.” For a number of lawyers in their 50s or early 60s, it’s now or never.
Judicial candidates on the primary ballot have precious little time to reach voters, and voters have precious little time to research candidates. Early voting starts in 11 weeks, and the June 10 primary is just 13 weeks away.
Judges are entrusted with great power. They decide everything from the constitutionality of our laws to complex civil claims, from child custody and support to prison sentences. They can give police permission to enter your home without your consent. They can order you detained on the spot.
And yet, over the years, many judicial races have been decided by who has the best-looking campaign signs. In a low-turnout primary, judicial races might be decided by whose name is listed first on the ballot.
That’s scary. Don’t cast an uninformed vote. This newspaper is conducting endorsement interviews with District Court candidates and will offer voters some guidance in advance of the primary and general election. The Review-Journal also publishes a biennial “Judging the Judges” performance evaluation, based on a survey of attorneys (http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/judicial-performance-evaluation). And the Clark County Election Department website lists everyone running for a judgeship, as well as candidate websites and email addresses, if they have one (http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/depts/election). Click on the link “Candidates Who Filed with the Clark County Registrar of Voters” and search for nonpartisan candidates.
But before you take any of those steps, establish a baseline for your knowledge of the local judiciary. Quiz yourself. See if you can name the local judge in each question below. Give yourself and the republic some hope for the future.
1. Who’s the District Court judge? A) Kathleen Delaney B) Kim Delaney C) Dana Delany
2. Who’s the Family Court judge? A) Rudy Giuliani B) Cynthia Giuliani C) Giuliana Rancic
3. Who’s the District Court judge? A) Jon Denton B) Ralph Denton C) Mark Denton
4. Who’s the Family Court judge? A) Al Martinez B) Vincent Ochoa C) Ruben Murillo
5. Who’s the District Court judge? A) Timothy Williams B) Paul Williams C) Andy Williams
6. Who’s the Family Court judge? A) Frank P. Sullivan B) James P. Sullivan C) Andrew Sullivan
7. Who’s the Las Vegas justice of the peace? A) Joe Bonaventure B) Gerard Bongiovanni C) John Bonaventura
8. Who’s the Las Vegas Municipal Court judge? A) Gordie Brown B) Bert Brown C) Bert Convy
9. Who’s the Henderson justice of the peace? A) David Gibson B) Jim Gibson C) Jim Gibbons
10. Who’s the Nevada Supreme Court justice? A) Don Cherry B) Michael Cherry C) Gordon Ramsey
Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-B, 5-A, 6-A, 7-A, 8-B, 9-A, 10-B.
Scores: 10: You’re obviously a lawyer. 9-7: Courthouse gadfly. 6-4: You actually read the news. 3-1: Not terrible. 0: Average voter.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.