CARSON CITY — Today is better than Christmas for Nevada Supreme Court Justices Mark Gibbons and Kris Pickering, along with 21 out of 52 incumbent Clark County District Court judges.
They should have nice celebratory dinners with family and friends. They can sleep late and have no bad dreams about sitting in lawyers’ offices and asking for money.
They got free rides to victory in the Nov. 4 election when no one filed to oppose them by the 5 p.m Friday deadline.
“I’m gratified that my work on one of the nation’s busiest appellate courts has been recognized and that I will not need to run a statewide campaign for re-election,” said Gibbons, the chief justice.
“This will allow me to commit my time toward resolving the more than 2,000 cases expected to be filed with the Supreme Court this year, in addition to working to reduce our current backlog of more than 1,800 cases.”
Pickering was equally exuberant.
“I am so pleased to be returning for another six-year term on the Nevada Supreme Court,” Pickering said. “I think the fact that none of us on the court has drawn opposition in recent years shows that the court, as a whole, is functioning effectively.”
The large number of incumbents winning re-election was not unexpected. No one filed to oppose incumbent Supreme Court justices in the 2010 and 2012 elections, either. The power of incumbency, whether as a justice or a judge, is just so great.
In an interview last month, Fred Lokken, the Web college dean and political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, gave reasons why lawyers oftentimes don’t challenge sitting judges. One is the high cost of financing a campaign. Another is that judges’ salaries can be lower than what they earn as private lawyers.
Also, incumbents are difficult to defeat, unless they have been involved in controversy. And there has been no recent controversies with regard to Supreme Court justices or most of the district judges in Clark County.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be some extraordinary judicial races this year. Four district judges — Valorie Vega, Allan Earl, James Bixler and Gloria O’Malley — are retiring.
Without incumbents in the races, lawyers flocked to file for their seats. Take Family Court, Department B, O’Malley’s seat. Eight lawyers filed for the job, which is part of District Court.
JONES RUNS DESPITE SCANDAL
Then there is Family Court Department C Judge Steven Jones, who faces a federal fraud indictment. Last month the state Commission on Judicial Discipline concluded that he committed professional misconduct when he failed to excuse himself when his girlfriend, former Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson, had cases before his court.
On Dec. 26, Jones discovered her body in her Henderson home. Toxicology results into her death have not been released.
Jones was suspended from working as a judge, but continues to draw his salary.
Last month, Jones received just a 30 percent favorable retention rating, the lowest of any judge, in a poll of Clark County lawyers conducted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. And yet he filed for re-election.
Perhaps sensing that the judge is vulnerable, five other lawyers filed for the same seat.
As a result, Jones and his competitors will square off June 10 in a primary to determine the two top vote-getters who will advance to the November general election.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter @edisonvogel.