EDITORIAL: For District Court, Family Court

Voters, you have some serious homework to do. And you’ve come to the right place to start.

Clark County’s primary election ballot is dominated by nonpartisan District Court and Family Court races. In all, 34 judgeships are on the primary ballot: 24 feature an incumbent without a challenger, but 10 departments have at least three candidates, requiring voters to narrow the field. The top two finishers in each of those races will advance to November’s ballot.

Every single voter in the county, whether registered with a major party, a minor party or as a nonpartisan, can vote in these judicial contests. These incredibly important positions hold a great deal of power, not just in the interpretation and enforcement of state laws, but in upholding our rights. Bad judges can cause great harm to Nevada’s business climate, bring unnecessary pain to families dealing with divorce and custody disputes, and undermine the very letter of the law.

Today’s Review-Journal includes a primary voter guide, with stories about every race on every ballot. And the newspaper’s biennial Judging the Judges survey, available online at www.reviewjournal.com/news/judicial-performance-evaluation, is a great source of information on the performance of judicial incumbents. With early voting underway, it’s critical that voters take the time to educate themselves about the candidates and cast an informed vote.

With that in mind, the Review-Journal’s editorial board is providing some recommendations to voters in these judicial primaries. A few candidates rise above the rest of the field, and some candidates have no business being on the June 10 ballot, much less sitting on the bench.

District Court, Department 2, is being vacated by Valorie Vega. Phung Jefferson is considerably less experienced than Richard Scotti, Bill Skupa and John Watkins, who have about a century of legal work between them. Ms. Jefferson is the wife of disgraced former Assemblyman Morse Arberry, who failed to report $120,000 in campaign contributions and then put the money in his personal checking account. Her refusal to talk about that crime says a lot. Voters should limit their consideration to Mr. Scotti, Mr. Skupa and Mr. Watkins.

In District Court, Department 22, voters should support Judge Susan Johnson over challengers Jacob Hafter and perennial candidate Bruce Gale. In last year’s Review-Journal judicial performance survey, 71 percent of attorneys supported retaining Judge Johnson.

District Court, Department 24, is being vacated by James Bixler. Fortunately, Jim Crockett, with four decades of courtroom experience, is more than qualified to take his place. Voters should support Mr. Crockett over Anthony Ashby and Joe Hardy Jr. Perennial candidate Tony Liker, who uses campaign signs to advertise his practice, is not qualified for the bench.

In District Court, Department 28, Judge Ron Israel is being challenged by Robert Pool and Susan Bush. Mr. Pool, a crony of embattled Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura, is running a revenge candidacy because Judge Israel ordered him to pay $11,000 in sanctions and attorney fees in connection with a frivolous Bonaventura claim. Voters should back Judge Israel or Ms. Bush.

In Family Court, Department B, Family Court Hearing Master Jane Femiano and attorney Shann Winesett are the best candidates in an eight-lawyer field to replace the retiring Gloria Sanchez O’Malley. Linda Marquis, meanwhile, is the least qualified candidate in the race because of her lack of family law experience.

Family Court, Department C, has been in turmoil since the indictment and suspension of Judge Steven Jones. Rebecca Burton, one of just 34 family law specialists certified by the State Bar of Nevada, stands out as the best and most qualified candidate in this race.

Kenneth Pollock was the worst-rated Family Court judge in last year’s Review-Journal survey, with 60 percent of attorneys saying he should not be retained. He needs to be replaced. Voters should support either of his Department J challengers, Rena Hughes or Romeo Perez.

In Family Court, Department L, Judge Jennifer Elliott is being challenged by Paul Gaudet and Mary Perry. Judge Elliott received a below-average score in last year’s Review-Journal evaluation, with just 61 percent of attorneys recommending her retention. Mr. Gaudet has more than 20 years of experience in civil and family law. Ms. Perry, who began practicing law in 2001, has far less experience than her opponents. Voters should support Judge Elliott or Mr. Gaudet.

Sandra Pomrenze is one of Family Court’s lowest-rated judges. In last year’s Review-Journal survey, 53 percent of attorneys said she should not be retained. Her lack of courtesy and the inadequacy of her rulings were reasons for her low score. In Department P, voters should support either of her challengers, David R. Ford or Nathan Gibbs.

Family Court, Department T incumbent Gayle Nathan rated poorly in last year’s Review-Journal evaluation, with 52 percent of attorneys saying she should not be retained. One of her challengers, Lisa Brown, was voted out of Family Court in 2008 after posting some of the worst scores in the history of the Review-Journal’s survey during her eight years on the bench. In 2006, just 29 percent of lawyers said she should be retained, and in 2008, that number inched up to just 36 percent. Judge Nathan’s other challenger, Maria Maskall, has been practicing primarily family law since 1997 but has lost several previous campaigns for Family Court. Primary voters should reject Ms. Brown and limit their consideration to Judge Nathan and Ms. Maskall.

A final recommendation: If you’re not able to research all these judicial races, don’t vote. Just skip the District Court and Family Court sections and leave them blank. Don’t cancel out an informed vote with an uninformed ballot. In a low-turnout primary, uninformed ballots could very well be the difference between a good candidate advancing or being eliminated.