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Judicial debate: Clark County Family Court, Dept. J: Incumbent rejects reprimand

Updated April 30, 2020 - 2:47 pm

A Family Court judge seeking to retain her seat on the bench repudiated during a Las Vegas Review-Journal debate a reprimand against her by the state’s Commission on Judicial Discipline.

Rena Hughes, who has held the seat in Department J since 2014, said she has appealed the commission’s 2018 ruling on her decision to hold a mother in contempt of court during a 2016 custody battle.

“You take one case out of the hundreds if not the thousands of cases that I’ve handled, and you can’t take that out of context,” she said. “That was an unfortunate case, and no one wanted that type of an outcome for a child who was in the middle of a high-conflict dispute. But I certainly don’t agree with the ruling of the commission.”

Two candidates trying to replace Hughes on the bench, Dedree “Dee” Butler and J. Scott MacDonald criticized Hughes’ response.

“It’s probably just one case of many to her,” said Butler, a deputy public defender. “But for that family, like many other families, that’s something that can stay with them for a lifetime, just how you’re treated in court. You have to have the temperament to treat people with respect and courtesy. There should be more responsibility taken.”

MacDonald, a private attorney, said Hughes made “a horrendous decision.”

“To be so dismissive of the outcome of the judicial commission, I think it’s inappropriate,” he added. “The reality is that this was a bad decision … and I think it would behoove Judge Hughes to own it, agree to learn from it, and then make her appeal to the electorate to give her another chance.”

More Judicial Debates

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

The debate marked the seventh of 23 scheduled events for more than 70 candidates in judicial primary races for the Supreme Court, District Court and Family Court.

Judicial debates have been rescheduled as videoconferences for the remainder of April amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In response to a question from moderator Steve Sebelius, the newspaper’s politics and government editor, Hughes also dismissed a Review-Journal survey in which 42 percent of the 84 lawyers who rated her said she should be retained.

“I’m not quite sure why the results turned out that way,” she said, pointing to her campaign website, which lists roughly 70 attorneys who support her re-election campaign. “Those are the people who are important to me. I’m always well-prepared for court. That is what I go by, not a poll or an ethics decision.”

Butler, who began her career in private practice and has worked at the Clark County public defender’s office for 10 years, said much of her experience has been in Family Court.

“We also deserve judges who are prepared and efficient,” Butler said. “I will make sure that everyone in my courtroom is treated with courtesy and respect and has an equal opportunity to be heard.”

MacDonald pointed to his 35-year legal career with an “extensive background” in family law and what he called “eye-opening” pro bono work.

“The bottom line is we can pretend there’s equal access to the courts, but the reality is there isn’t,” he said. “There’s a lot of resources that are available, but there still isn’t enough. We need to find creative ways to help these people have an opportunity to have a fair day in court.”

MacDonald added that he “will bring a mature and reasoned approach to the bench.”

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

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