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Attorney challenging 13-year incumbent in District Court Dept. 17

An attorney is challenging a 13-year incumbent in the upcoming general election for Clark County District Court’s Department 17 seat.

Anna Albertson and Michael Villani are both vying for the bench, which currently oversees criminal cases.

Villani, who said he has lived in Clark County for 60 years, was appointed to the seat in 2007 and was elected in both 2008 and 2014. Before his time on the bench, he worked for the District Attorney’s office and had a private practice, he said.

According to his election website, Villani graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a psychology degree in 1979, then graduated with a law degree from California Western School of Law in 1982.

Before his time on the bench, Villani was a deputy district attorney and had a private practice handling civil and criminal cases, his website said. He is currently the presiding judge in the criminal division and one of four judges that handle homicide cases.

Albertson said she has worked as a court-appointed arbitrator, a pro-tem judge and a truancy court judge. According to her website, she regularly represents low-income and minority defendants and “understands how much the rulings made by a judge can affect an individual or small business.”

During a judicial debate moderated by the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Politics & Government Editor Steve Sebelius, Villani said his experience on the bench and his record of high retention scores over the years in the Review-Journal’s Judging the Judges surveys show that he’s the best person for the job.

“This race is about experience and a proven track record,” Villani said. “I have that experience and a proven track record.”

The candidates spent the majority of the debate arguing the proper way for a judge to handle what they both acknowledged is systemic disparate treatment of minority defendants in the judicial system.

Villani said he prides himself on his “race-neutral” approach to his cases. He explained that he doesn’t look at the names or races of the defendants, but rather studies the facts of the case and the defendants’ criminal records.

“How much more race neutral can you get without looking at the race or the gender of the person?” Villani said. “I just look at the facts of the particular case.”

But Albertson said she thinks Villani is taking the wrong approach, calling it “a prime example of what we need to start to avoid” because it can disguise underlying prejudice and bias.

“This attitude like, ‘Oh I don’t have any biases or prejudices,’ is simply not true,” Albertson said. “We all have biases and prejudices and we need to learn about them, we need to explore them and we need to acknowledge that we have them.”

Contact Alexis Ford at aford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexisdford on Twitter.

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