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Judge lands Nevada Supreme Court seat after no one else files

Updated February 4, 2018 - 11:32 am

The Nevada Supreme Court had two open seats in this fall’s election. Now there is just one. Abbi Silver, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, was elected outright when no one filed against her.

The other seat drew five candidates, requiring a primary election to whittle them down to two and then a November general election.

Why would one nonpartisan seat draw only one person and the other five?

“I’m a hard worker, end of story,” Silver said.

Silver has a history of scaring off opponents with her relentless fundraising ability and her strong campaign skills. She will step into retiring Justice Michael Douglas’ seat without breaking a sweat and without raising a dime since judges can’t raise funds without an opponent.

Silver’s lack of opponents went unnoticed by the news media when filing ended Jan. 12, and she said she’s reluctant to broadcast it beyond friends because “until it’s in the newspaper, it doesn’t seem real.”

Justice Silver, it’s real now.

The Court of Appeals, operational in 2015, is a natural stepping stone to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Voters who approved the appellate court were told that the seven-person Supreme Court would be reduced to five members. Of course, that didn’t happen. The 2015 Legislature, supposedly acting on its own, changed the law to keep the number of judges to seven. Promises made, promises broken.

Anyway, the justice-in-waiting’s legal career certainly qualifies her for the job she will start next January.

A native Nevadan, she began her legal career when she was hired by the Clark County district attorney, where she worked for nearly 14 years before her first race, starting with the Las Vegas Municipal Court in 2003. Besides being on the municipal court and district court, she was appointed to the appellate court. It’s a natural progression.

A Republican, she’s “beyond honored” that Gov. Brian Sandoval selected her for the appellate court because he’s a former federal judge himself, who gave up the lifetime seat to run for governor. She was impressed he asked for writing samples from candidates, because he knows how important that is in a judge.

Her relentless fundraising skills probably chased away some potential challengers this year. When she ran for Justice Court in 2005 against Bernie Zadrowski, between January and March she raised $250,000. She stopped asking for money, believing that was enough. And it was.

Heated race expected

The second seat, currently held by retiring Justice Michael Cherry, will be the one with political drama.

With five candidates it will be expensive and require plenty of hard work. Expect hardball in this race.

The five are: Clark County District Judge Elissa Cadish, Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Tao, Las Vegas attorney Alan Lefebvre, Lyon County District Judge Leon Aberasturi, and Carson City attorney John Rutledge, who unsuccessfully ran for governor as a Democrat in 2014.

Cadish and Tao both have strong ties to former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Tao was Reid’s speechwriter, and Cadish in 2012 was proposed by Reid for a federal judgeship but was blocked by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Despite Cadish’s reputation as a fine district judge, Heller zeroed in on a questionnaire about gun issues she had submitted to a conservative group in 2008.

She wrote that she believed “reasonable restrictions may be imposed on gun ownership in the interest of public safety.”

Cadish also wrote that she does not believe there is a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but she would enforce the laws as they exist.

She later tried to clarify her comments, saying she was not speaking for herself but reflected the unsettled law on gun rights before the Supreme Court issued rulings on the Second Amendment that made clear an individual’s right to gun ownership.

But that fine line regarding timing probably won’t fly with gun rights advocates, especially in rural and Northern Nevada, and will make her vulnerable.

As a Democrat, Tao ran a rough campaign against Clark County Commissioner Chip Maxfield in 2004 but lost. In 2007, he re-registered as a nonpartisan. Tao was appointed to the District Court by Sandoval in 2011, so he had already been vetted by the GOP governor before being appointed to the Court of Appeals.

Both Cadish and Tao received favorable retention ratings as district judges in the high 80s in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Judging the Judges survey in 2013.

In the only other Supreme Court race, current Justice Lidia Stiglich of Washoe County and Clark County Family Court Judge Mathew Harter face off.

If this is another “Year of the Woman” among voters, Stiglich and Cadish could hold an advantage.

Being a woman certainly didn’t hurt Silver.

A previous version of this column incorrectly reported the Nevada Supreme Court seat won by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Abbi Silver.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Sundays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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