Looking back on a dozen years on the Nevada Supreme Court, Chief Justice Kristina Pickering, who is up for re-election, thought of a man who spent two decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
DeMarlo Berry was released from prison in 2017 after being exonerated in the 1994 murder of Charles Burkes.
Pickering, who was first elected to the high court in 2008, recalled reading through the case for Berry, who was 19 at the time of the killing, and becoming convinced that he had “a legitimate actual-innocence claim.”
In a videoconference conversation with Las Vegas Review-Journal government and politics editor Steve Sebelius, Pickering said her work on the case with her law clerk ultimately led to a 2019 state law that offered reparations for exonerees.
“I’m a fervent believer that ours is one of the best dispute resolution systems in the world,” Pickering said. “But when we get it wrong, we owe an obligation to fix it, and I feel like in that case that happened.”
The newspaper offered Pickering the opportunity to speak as part of a series examining candidates in judicial primary races after her opponents turned down invitations for a debate.
She is being challenged by Las Vegas attorneys Thomas Christensen and Esther Rodriguez for Seat B on the court.
When asked about her judicial philosophy, Pickering told Sebelius that she strives to be “neutral and well-prepared.”
“It doesn’t matter what I personally think as a matter of policy the law ought to be, it’s what it is,” Pickering said. “And everyone who comes to court is entitled to have that law applied fairly and evenhandedly to them.”
She also pointed to her work ensuring pro bono attorneys for litigants at the appellate level.
“With the COVID crisis and the economic turmoil that we’ll be facing, it’s going to be all the more challenging, particularly when some of the stay-at-home orders that Gov. (Steve) Sisolak has imposed are lifted, and you find people going to court without the money and the representation that they need,” she said.
In the races where no candidate captures a majority of mail-in votes cast for the June 9 primary, the top two finishers will advance to November’s general election. If a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, the candidate will win the election.
The newspaper is hosting events for more than 70 candidates in judicial primary races for Family Court, District Court and the Nevada Supreme Court.