97 candidates competing for judicial posts

Almost 100 candidates are competing for more than 40 judicial posts up for grabs in 2008, including a district judge who has been suspended from the bench, the daughter of a well-known judge and one of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s sons.

The 2008 election filing period for judges and justices in Clark County ended Friday with 97 candidates declaring they will run for district judge, Family Court judge and for justice of the peace slots in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.

In District Court, candidates are competing for 25 seats. This includes a newly created position in Department 25 and three seats left vacant by judges who decided not to run — Stewart Bell, Lee Gates and Sally Loehrer.

A dozen judges have drawn no opposition.

Jim Denton, a longtime political consultant, said there is a greater number of candidates running for judicial office because of the large number of newly created positions. Besides the seat in District Court, there are five new Family Court positions and four new justice of the peace openings.

"By their nature, those kinds of open seats will draw more attention," said Denton, who is helping several judges, including Michael Villani and David Barker, seek re-election.

Eight incumbent District Court judges have also drawn opponents, including Elizabeth Halverson, who has been suspended from the bench in Department 23 and is facing a 14-count complaint from the Nevada Judicial Election Commission. The complaint alleges she harassed employees and couldn’t competently conduct criminal trials, among other things.

Halverson’s seat has widely been seen as vulnerable because of the accusations against her. She has drawn two opponents.

Denton believes there is one good thing to come out of the Halverson controversy.

"Voters will pay significantly more attention to the qualifications of respective candidates," he said.

Beating a sitting judge is often seen as an uphill battle, but that hasn’t stopped about a dozen candidates from trying. Incumbent District Judge Michelle Leavitt, for example, has a competitor in Kurt Harris, a private attorney who has never run for office.

Harris said he knows Leavitt is well known and doesn’t necessarily consider her seat an easy win. But he said voters should have a choice for who sits on the bench. He is aware of the tough road ahead of him.

"She’s definitely the incumbent and has all the advantages," he said.

For her part, Leavitt said she is confident that she is the right person for the seat. She is in her 10th year as a judge and has experience in both civil and criminal cases.

"I take my job seriously. You have to love this job in order to do it. We have a lot of challenges because of the caseloads," she said Friday.

In one open seat, Department 7, the incumbent’s daughter is vying for the seat held by her father. Stewart Bell isn’t running for re-election to the bench, but his daughter, Linda Marie Bell, declared her candidacy Jan. 7, the first day of the judicial candidate filing period.

Linda Marie Bell is an assistant federal public defender.

In keeping with the family theme, Eric Goodman, an attorney who specializes in criminal defense, is running for the newly created Las Vegas justice of the peace Department 11.

He has drawn one challenger, Mark Karris, an attorney in private practice.

Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara@reviewjournal.com or (702) 380-1039.

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