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First Asian-American appointed to Nevada bench

Gov. Brian Sandoval didn’t waste any time making his first judicial appointment — or history — Thursday when he chose Jerry Tao to replace former Clark County District Judge David Wall, who resigned in August to take a position with Mainor Eglet.

Tao is the first Asian-American to be appointed to the bench in Nevada.

"I am incredibly impressed with Jerry," said Sandoval in making his announcement at the Grant Sawyer government building. Sandoval said as a former federal judge he understands what is required of good judges and is confident Tao possesses the necessary attributes of being prepared and respectful.

The son of immigrants, Tao, 42, prevailed over two other "highly qualified" candidates, said Sandoval, who personally interviewed Tao; Michael Davidson of the Kolesar & Latham law firm; and Troy Peyton. Sandoval said all three men were quality individuals and hinted Tao separated himself through his range of experience.

A supervisor at the Clark County Public Defender’s office who in the past also worked for the district attorney, Sandoval noted Tao has participated in more than 100 trials either as a prosecutor or defense attorney, and practiced civil law in private practice before becoming a public attorney.

In Clark County’s Eighth Judicial District, judges preside over criminal and civil matters ranging from death penalty cases to complex construction defect litigation.

Tao said he was humbled by the appointment.

"I will be fair, impartial, and thorough and strive to do justice," he said.

Tao’s parents, Louis and Kay Tao, were in attendance. Both of them said they were proud of their son’s appointment.

Tao earned his Bachelor of Science at Cornell and his Juris Doctorate from George Washington School of Law, where in 1992, as a member of the school’s Law Review; he was awarded the Marcus B. Finnegan Memorial Award, given to one student who wrote the best scholarly article of the year.

While Tao was Sandoval’s first judicial appointment, history suggests more will follow. The late Kenny Guinn made 21 judicial appointments. Former Gov. Jim Gibbons in four years made seven appointments, including one Family Court judge, Robert Teuton, who was appointed twice because of a glitch in the process.

The process is intense. Nineteen candidates applied for the vacancy and had to provide extensive information to the Nevada Commission on Judicial Selection — Tao’s application was 50 pages long — as well as submit to a comprehensive background check.

The commission, composed of the Nevada Supreme Court’s chief justice, attorneys, and laypersons from throughout the state, whittled the field to three candidates for Sandoval to consider. The governor then interviewed the finalists before making his decision.

There are now 52 judges in Clark County. District judges earn $160,000 annually. Clark County’s court system is one of the busiest in the nation; each judge handles roughly 2,225 cases per year. Tao will have to campaign for election to a full term in 2012.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Ben Spillman contributed to this report. Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

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