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Two public defenders challenge longtime incumbent in Justice Court judicial race

Two attorneys are challenging a longtime incumbent for the Las Vegas Justice Court Department 2 seat in the upcoming primary election.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joseph Sciscento, 59, has sat on the department’s bench since his appointment in 2009. He ran unopposed to retain the seat in 2010, 2012 and 2018. He will appear on the ballot in June’s primary election against Chief Deputy Public Defender Kristal Bradford and Chief Deputy Special Public Defender Ava Bravo.

According to Clark County court records, Bravo, 59, had her name changed from Karen Schatzle in February 2022. She began working at the Clark County Special Public Defender’s Office in early 2022, but prior to that, she worked as an attorney and prosecutor in Orange County, California, for nearly three decades, and ran for judge in California in 2016 under her old name.

Bravo told the Review-Journal that she did not decide to change her name in order to run for judge in Nevada.

“I had no intention of running for office when I got to Nevada at all,” she said.

Bravo graduated from Western State College of Law in 1992 and was a prosecutor with the Orange County district attorney’s office from 1992 through March 2019. She then worked for the Children’s Law Center in California from 2019 through 2021 before joining the Clark County special public defender’s office in January 2022, Bravo said.

Bravo said she has lived in Las Vegas “off and on” for about 20 years, while her husband maintained a residence in Clark County. She said her first time practicing in a Nevada courtroom was after joining the special public defender’s office in 2022, but that she worked remotely from Las Vegas while employed at the Children’s Law Center.

She said that although she has only worked in Las Vegas full time for a few years, she feels ready to serve as a judge.

“I do feel prepared,” Bravo said. “I feel more prepared than when I originally ran in Orange County.”

Her previous run for judge in Orange County was spurred by controversy. Bravo said she unsuccessfully ran against Judge Scott Steiner after he was censured for having sex with a former law student. As a sexual assault prosecutor, she “felt very strongly that someone should oppose the judge.”

She later sued Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, alleging he retaliated against her for running against the judge. She was not awarded damages in the lawsuit.

Bravo said she has her “own personal reasons” for deciding to run against an incumbent in the upcoming Clark County election.

“One of the reasons that I am willing to share is that I believe the system works and actually becomes better when people are not too comfortable in their position,” she said.

According to campaign finance reports, Bravo has over $26,000 in contributions as of April 15, $25,000 of which consist of a loan in her own name.

“I think it’s an inherent conflict of interest to ask people for money who appear in front of you,” she said.

Also challenging Sciscento is Bradford, 37, who graduated from Western State College of Law in 2012. She practiced civil law in California before moving to Las Vegas in 2018, when she started at the Clark County public defender’s office.

Bradford said she would bring a “fresh perspective” to the department. She said she stands apart from her opponents with her experience in practicing civil law, and her personal background.

“I’m the only African-American woman right now running for Justice Court, and there isn’t one right now on the bench in Justice Court,” she said. “It gives me a different perspective, and representation does matter.”

Bradford said if she is elected, she would prioritize ensuring that everyone who enters her courtroom feels like they are heard.

“I also will make sure that everyone feels like they can trust the judicial process,” she said.

Campaign finance reports filed in April showed that Bradford had not raised any money for the race. Bradford said she has since focused more on fundraising, and contributions will be noted in the next round of finance reports.

Sciscento said his history of serving 18 years on the bench makes him the best candidate in the race. If re-elected, he said it will be for a final term.

“I’ve gained a lot of experience while on the bench, and I think it’s very important that we maintain a court with experience,” Sciscento said.

He has raised more than $89,000, one of the highest amounts in this year’s judicial races on the primary ballot, campaign finance records show. His endorsements include the Clark County Prosecutors Association and multiple law enforcement agencies.

Sciscento has overseen criminal cases for the majority of his time on the bench. He scored an 86 percent in the 2019 Judging the Judges evaluation by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

If re-elected, Sciscento said he would like like to work towards improving people’s access to the judicial system, especially online resources and payments for traffic infractions.

“We’re trying to streamline the process,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-024.

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