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Judicial debate: Clark County District Court, Dept. 19: Challengers criticize incumbent

A pair of attorneys hoping to replace a sitting judge leveled harsh criticisms of the incumbent in a Las Vegas Review-Journal debate.

Deputy Public Defender Fikisha Miller and private attorney Crystal Eller attacked District Judge William “Bill” Kephart’s record on the bench in Department 19, as well as his work as a prosecutor before he took the seat.

“I chose this seat to hold Mr. Kephart personally responsible,” Miller said.

She called herself the “most qualified candidate in the race” and touted her 18 years of legal experience, with work as a prosecutor and a judicial commissioner.

Eller, who has been licensed to practice law in Nevada since 1993, said Kephart “just doesn’t have the temperament to be a judge.” She pointed to Kephart’s 55 percent retention rating last year in the newspaper’s survey of lawyers.

Kephart, meanwhile, defended the score by saying it showed he was balanced in his rulings.

“It’s interesting that both these ladies that have absolutely no experience in the judiciary have the opinions they have,” he said. “They would also understand by doing their research that I have the second best reversal rate on the bench in the state of Nevada in all the felony cases and civil cases that I’ve handled since 2015. … So as a judge I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty doggone good job.”

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But Miller and Eller also brought up Kephart’s work as a prosecutor, which included the conviction of Fred Steese.

Before he was pardoned, Steese spent more than 21 years in prison for a 1992 killing he did not commit. Kephart also prosecuted Kirstin Blaise Lobato, who spent more than a decade behind bars for the killing of a homeless man before a judge ordered her released from prison in 2017.

“I cannot underscore the importance of removing Mr. Kephart from the bench,” Miller said, adding that Kephart “routinely treats people in his court with disrespect.”

Kephart said he had not been found in violation for his work on either case.

“She wasn’t even in law school when I was prosecuting those matters,” the judge said. “Things change over the time and over years.”

Kephart said Miller’s own office defended Steese.

“And the fact remains that the defense attorney failed to present evidence that may have supported his actual-innocence claim,” the judge said.

Occasionally, the focus of the debate shifted away from the judge. Responding to a question from debate moderator Victor Joecks, a columnist for the newspaper, Eller said she fought against “illegal, inappropriate and fraudulent foreclosures.”

“I’m honored to have fought for that,” she said.

In primary races where no candidate captures a majority of votes cast, the top two finishers will advance to November’s general election. If a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 9 primary, which is being conducted by mail, the candidate will win the election.

While the debates can be found on reviewjournal.com, they air Wednesday and Saturday nights on Cox Cable’s YurView Channel 14 as part of a video partnership between the media companies.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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