An incumbent judge with a history of publicly criticized decisions and actions from the bench apologized and tried to explain his conduct during a Las Vegas Review-Journal debate with two lawyers who want to unseat him.
Deputy Public Defender Carli Kierny and criminal defense attorney Dustin Marcello are vying for the seat in Department 2, which has been held by District Judge Richard Scotti since he was elected in 2014.
In early 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 Oct. 1, 2017.
“Ordinarily the freedom of the press will win out over many other rights,” said Scotti, who appeared to be sitting in his courtroom during the virtual debate. “In this case, there was concern I had for the rights of privacy of the (victim’s family). … I made a decision. I am proud of the system where my decision was reviewed by the Supreme Court. That’s our system. That’s the American way. I accept it. But under these circumstances there was no reason, I felt at the time, that that coroner report needed to be produced.”
Scotti claimed he was vindicated through another high court decision. In February, justices ruled that autopsy reports are public but wrote that “juvenile autopsy reports may include sensitive, private information and that such information may be properly redacted as privilege.”
Marcello, licensed in the state since 2006, argued that Scotti let his emotions creep into his decision.
“The issue is not the action that was taken. It’s that it was legally incorrect,” he said, pointing to Scotti’s record of being overturned. “It’s not recognizing the mistake when it was there to fix it legally. There is a legal way to address it and do it under the law instead of having to do it based off of emotions.”
Also asked about Scotti’s ruling against the newspaper, Kierny said: “You have to follow the law. That’s what judges do.”
Kierny, who has been licensed in Nevada since 2010, was working as a public defender on a child rape trial in early 2017 when Scotti tossed a pocket U.S. Constitution against the wall of his courtroom during jury selection.
When asked about the matter during the debate, the judge called the case “emotionally charged,” adding that his father was dying at the time.
“I regret what happened, and I apologize for not treating the juror more respectfully,” Scotti said. “I was really distraught. I’ve learned from this.”
In Kierny’s closing argument during the debate, she also addressed Scotti’s low retention score in the newspaper’s 2019 judicial performance survey. Of the attorneys who responded, 52 percent said Scotti should be retained.
“Clark County deserves a judge that has an even temper,” Kierny said. “They don’t deserve somebody who throws the Constitution.”
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