A crowded field of candidates carries a load of legal experience into the race to succeed District Judge Kathy Hardcastle, who retired midterm this year.
In all, nine candidates are vying for the attention of the voters for Department 4. Whoever wins in November would have to run again in 2014 to get a full six-year term.
District Judge Kerry Louise Earley, a civil lawyer for more than 30 years, is running as the incumbent. Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Earley to the nonpartisan position in July from a list of three candidates chosen by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Selection.
"I made a great living and I love trial work, but this is my chance to give back," said Earley, who got her start as a defense lawyer in the complex litigation over the deadly 1980 MGM Grand fire.
Earley said her years of experience in complicated civil law, many while running her own firm, make her a valuable resource in District Court.
North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Chris Lee, a former deputy district attorney who has spent the past four years on the bench, said he has the "widest depth and breadth of experience" among the candidates.
"I'm the only one who really has been vetted," Lee said. "People know what they're getting from me."
Lee said his handling of heavy civil and criminal caseloads in North Las Vegas has prepared him for the next level in District Court.
Robert A. Kelley, the full-time traffic judge for Clark County, said he would bring 20 years of experience as a personal injury and contract litigation lawyer to the District Court bench.
He said he also has served as a part-time Las Vegas justice of the peace, gaining experience presiding over trials.
Moving to District Court would be a "natural progression" in his legal career, he said.
Defense lawyer John G. Watkins is one of the most recognized names in the race. He has represented several defendants over the years charged in high-profile cases of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Watkins said he has spent the majority of his legal career in Las Vegas, more than 30 years, handling roughly 18,000 drunken driving cases.
He said his lack of prosecution experience would not hurt him on the bench.
"My claim to fame is that I work hard," he said. "I think I have a lot of respect from prosecutors."
Soonhee "Sunny" Bailey, a former prosecutor and public defender who now works at a widely known civil law firm, said she would bring the right amount of "experience and temperament" to District Court.
Bailey, a member of the State Bar of Nevada since 2004, spent 10 years as a deputy district attorney and a part-time judge in the Tacoma and Seattle areas before coming to Las Vegas.
She has worked briefly here as a deputy public defender and a part-time justice of the peace.
If elected, Bailey said she would strive to give people better access to the courts.
"Everyone just wants to have their day in court," she said. "They want their opportunity to be heard."
Michael C. Mills, who has spent 25 years handling insurance defense cases, is funding his campaign and not accepting contributions from fellow lawyers. He said he wants to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest should he get elected.
"Judges should avoid activities that cause people to question the independence of their rulings," Mills states on his website.
Mills, who has experience as a part-time judge and arbitrator, said he is doing all of his campaigning through the Internet and social media.
"I would like to see stronger enforcement relating to the issue of campaign contributions," he said.
Bruce L. Gale, who since 2008 has run for three other judicial seats and lost, said he also isn't accepting contributions from lawyers.
He said he has the "most varied" legal experience in his 32 years as a lawyer and certified public accountant of all the nine candidates. Over the years, he said, he has practiced personal injury, family, tax, and criminal law and has been involved in complex civil litigation. He also has served as an arbitrator, mediator and part-time judge.
"I can handle pretty much any kind of calendar in District Court," Gale said.
Marsha Kimble-Simms has practiced civil, criminal and bankruptcy law over her 26 years as a lawyer.
She said she has a record of extensive community service and wants to take her legal career to the next level.
Her friends encouraged her to run for the seat, she said.
Troy E. Peyton, who has experience as an arbitrator, mediator and part-time judge, was running his own civil law firm until recently, when he became a litigation attorney for MGM Resorts International.
"I've got experience hearing evidence, weighing evidence and presiding over jury trials," he said.
If elected, Peyton said he wants to work to get cases to trial faster or into settlement programs.
"Too many cases are languishing in the system," he said.
Contact reporter Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.