Most of the eight candidates for Clark County Family Court Department B agree that decisions need to be made promptly in the courtroom to allow families to move on with their lives.
Family Court is very important, said Jane D. Femiano, who has worked as a Family Court hearing master for the past five years.
“It’s just to recognize that we have kids waiting for these decisions,” she said. “Children’s lives have been disrupted by this process.”
Family Court Department B Judge Gloria O’Malley, first elected in 1993, is retiring from the nonpartisan office. With no incumbent running, this is the Family Court race with the most candidates.
There’s also a need for consistency in Family courtrooms, said candidates Shann D. Winesett and Heather Bailey Zana. Winesett is a family law attorney and also serves as a judge pro tem in Clark County child support court. Zana is a family law attorney.
Everyone should be treated with consistency, Zana said. Otherwise, families might feel like they were treated unfairly.
“Each judge does their own thing on several issues,” Winesett said.
Policies need to be synchronized so that people “can be assured that no matter in what department their case lands, that there will be consistency,” he said.
The department also needs someone who is knowledgeable and caring, said candidate Kristine Brewer, who has practiced family law for over a decade.
“I really have a passion for helping people and making them have a voice,” she said. “I have integrity. I will listen to them. I will give them the time they need in the courtroom. Their voices will be heard.”
Brewer said she would like to implement a mediation and a volunteer pro bono program to help people who represent themselves in court. Sixty-one percent of those who appear in Family Court do so without a lawyer, she said.
Candidate Thomas G. Kurtz, who has served as a hearing master in Family Court for the past five years, has a similar idea.
“I would like to see more pro bono attorneys,” he said. “It’s something that we need very much. That’s one of the projects I would take on.”
Candidate Linda Marquis said one of her priorities would be to build relationships with nonprofits and other community organizations that help support families. That would help ensure families have the support they need whether it’s emotional, mental, social support or parenting classes.
“To make sure that those families have the tools they need to move forward,” she said.
Candidate Joseph Scalia said families do need more access to programs and that perhaps the services could be streamlined to better serve them. He said he would advocate for mental health services, which are needed.
“You would see the volume of cases, especially in Las Vegas, drop dramatically,” he said.
But which of the eight candidates is the most qualified?
“In my opinion, I’m the most experienced candidate running in Department B,” said Kurtz, who has more than 24 years in family law. Before beginning his job as a full-time hearing master in Family Court, he served for nine years as an alternate judicial officer.
Department B is one of the oldest and the one with the heaviest caseload, he said.
“It needs someone who can walk in on January 2015 and be able to do the job,” he said.
But Kurtz is not the only one who feels confident.
“I would be able to hit the ground running,” Femiano said. “Currently, I’m appointed to the bench.”
Marquis said she has the most diverse judicial background among the candidates. She’s an attorney, serves as a justice of the peace pro tem for Las Vegas Justice Court and North Las Vegas Justice Court and also serves as an alternate judge for Las Vegas Municipal Court.
She sees a lot of troubled families and children in Municipal Court. The best way to deal with those families is to see them in Family Court first and give them the services they need before they go to a criminal court.
“I think I can make a difference,” she said. “I’m a problem solver. I enjoy challenges.”
Scalia said he has resolved thousands of cases that have shown him what needs to be done in Family Court. Helping people make rational decisions is key, he said.
“If they both continue to fight, they both lose,” he said.
Winesett said he believes Southern Nevada needs a competent judge with experience, given the large percentage of litigants who are unrepresented. He has primarily practiced family law for more than 16 years.
“When you have litigants in front of you who don’t know the law, and you have a judge who doesn’t know the law, I don’t see how justice can be done,” Winesett said.
He said he has significant experience, good analytical skills and a good judicial temperament, which is what it takes to be a good judge.
Zana said she’s the most well-rounded and most experienced in family law. She has worked as a Family Court clerk, counsel for litigants and as a judge pro tem.
“I would be lucky enough to go into a good department,” she said. “I wouldn’t have to make that many changes, I would like to continue being fair, reasonable and rational.”
Candidate Ellen J. Bezian said she didn’t feel comfortable being interviewed for this story.
Contact Yesenia Amaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.