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2 incumbents trail opponents in Clark County District Court races

Updated November 4, 2020 - 5:06 pm

Preliminary election results in Clark County showed two incumbent judges in District Court trailing their opponents on Wednesday and another incumbent locked in a tight race.

Voters were responsible for deciding 18 races in District Court, while 14 candidates ran unopposed on the general election ballot and had secured their seats before Election Day.

The incumbents who ran unopposed were Linda Bell, Cristina Silva, Tierra Jones, Elizabeth Gonzalez, Michelle Leavitt, Mark Denton, Adriana Escobar, Joe Hardy Jr., Tim Williams, Kathleen Delaney, Gloria Sturman, Ron Israel, Jerry Wiese and Nancy Allf.

Here’s a breakdown of preliminary results of the contested races in Clark County District Court, which the county announced at 3:34 a.m. Wednesday:

Department 1

Former longtime public defender Bita Yeager, who has been a hearing master in District Court since 2017, was leading with 58 percent of the vote in her race against Deputy District Attorney Jacob Villani. In 2015, Yeager was appointed as a Las Vegas justice of the peace but lost a re-election bid the following year.

Department 2

Incumbent Richard Scotti was trailing his opponent, Carli Kierny, a public defender, who had about 54 percent of the vote.

Scotti told the Review-Journal on Wednesday that he was surprised by the results, though the pandemic made campaigning unusual.

“It looks, at this point in time, that I’m not going to be re-elected,” he said. “It’s been a very rewarding opportunity for me to sit on the bench.”

He said was looking at either going back to private practice or starting his own firm and wished the best to his opponent.

“My passion has always been to serve the community, and if the voters have chosen that I should serve the community in a matter other than a District Court judge, I will,” he said.

Scotti, who was elected in 2014, has faced criticism for some of his decisions.

In 2018, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Scotti violated the First Amendment when he barred the Review-Journal from reporting on the redacted autopsy report of a man killed during the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1, 2017.

In early 2017, Scotti tossed a pocket U.S. Constitution against the wall of his courtroom during jury selection. Kierny was representing the defendant in the case.

The judge’s action led the high court to overturn the defendant’s conviction and sentence.

Kierny said on Wednesday that she was pleased with the results.

“This kind of exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I knew running against an incumbent was always going to be a challenge, and it was a challenge worth taking on because I thought the citizens deserved better.”

Department 3

Criminal defense attorney Monica Trujillo had nearly 59 percent of the vote against civil attorney Adam Ganz.

Department 4

Attorney Nadia Krall had about 55 percent of the vote. Krall, who has 12 years of experience practicing law at her own firm, ran against lawyer Phil Aurbach, who has practiced in Southern Nevada for 42 years.

Department 5

Civil attorney Veronica Barisich had about 55 percent of the vote for this vacant seat. She is running against Terry Coffing, who also practices civil law.

Department 6

Former Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney and incumbent Judge Jacqueline Bluth had about 65 percent of the vote against criminal defense attorney Todd Leventhal.

Bluth was appointed by Gov. Steve Sisolak last year, and Leventhal famously represented one of the defendants in the Bundy standoff trial.

Department 8

The race in Department 8 was close; incumbent Trevor Atkin had just over 50 percent of the vote against truancy diversion Judge Jessica Peterson.

Department 17

Thirteen-year incumbent Michael Villani had just under 53 percent of the vote against defense attorney Anna Albertson, managing attorney and owner of Legal Angel law firm.

Villani has consistently received high marks from attorneys who participated in the Review-Journal’s Judicial Performance Evaluation.

Department 18

District Judge Mary Kay Holthus, a former longtime prosecutor, had about 63 percent of the votes against longtime Clark County civil law attorney John Hunt.

Department 19

Longtime judge and incumbent William “Bill” Kephart, a former prosecutor who was elected to the District Court in 2015, was nearly tied to keep his seat against attorney Crystal Eller. Kephart had just over 50 percent of the vote.

His campaign manager, Lisa Mayo, said Wednesday that though it was expected to be a close race, “we’re pretty confident that he’ll hold his lead.”

“We did expect this because of the onset of the progressive women lawyers that were very open about the fact that they wanted to replace conservative judges,” she said.

A topic of debate in the race was a 1992 murder case involving defendant Fred Steese, whom Kephart prosecuted as an attorney.

Even though another judge found that no reasonable juror would have found Steese guilty based on new evidence that called into question the credibility of that used by Kephart, Kephart suggested in a Review-Journal debate that Steese was guilty.

Steese was pardoned after serving 21 years in prison for a 1992 killing.

Kephart also brought up Eller’s April reprimand by the State Bar of Nevada. According to the reprimand, Eller charged unreasonable legal fees and committed ethical violations that “could have caused potential injury to the public as well as the legal profession.”

“I’m definitely still in the race,” Eller said Wednesday. “There’s plenty of room for me to make up those votes … The fact that he had to outspend me to keep his seat as a sitting judge speaks volumes as to who would be the better judge.”

Department 20

Incumbent Judge Eric Johnson had about 56 percent of the vote against personal injury attorney Dawn Hooker.

Department 21

In a close race, attorney Jacob Reynolds was winning this open seat, with just over 50 percent of the vote against attorney and former police officer Tara Clark Newberry.

Department 22

Longtime incumbent Judge Susan Johnson, who was first elected in 2006, had about 71 percent of the vote over attorney Ben Nadig, who owns a law firm and works in mental health court.

Johnson was questioned about her political bias after several complaints were filed against her for comments she made to two people, indicating that if they successfully completed their probation, they would be able to vote for President Donald Trump.

Department 23

Deputy Public Defender Jasmin Lilly-Spells had about 53 percent of the vote against civil attorney Karl Armstrong.

Department 24

Public defender Erika Ballou received about 54 percent of the vote against Dan Gilliam, a criminal defense attorney and former assistant city attorney in Henderson.

Department 29

Incumbent Judge David Jones, who was appointed and then ran unopposed in 2018, had about 62 percent of the vote over David Lopez-Negrete, a public defender.

In the Review-Journal’s 2019 survey, Jones received one of the highest scores in the report.

Department 31

Incumbent Judge Joanna Kishner had about 74 percent of the vote in the race against Las Vegas civil attorney Gary Call. Kishner has served as the department’s judge since it was created in 2010.

Department 32

Incumbent Judge Rob Bare was trailing behind Christy Craig, a longtime public defender in Clark County, who had nearly 54 percent of the vote. Bare has served since the inception of Department 32 in 2011.

A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of District Judge Cristina Silva.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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