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Letter blames Clark County judge’s election loss on gender

Updated February 8, 2019 - 10:26 pm

Mark Bailus wants back on the Clark County District Court bench after losing as an appointed incumbent in November.

And in his application for a vacant seat, the former criminal defense attorney included a letter from his campaign manager that blamed the gender of his opponent, Mary Kay Holthus, for his failed election bid.

“The defeat was not by any means the fault of Judge Bailus, but more due to the political climate of the 2018 elections,” wrote the campaign manager, David Thomas. “Despite Judge Bailus’ great commitment, he could not overcome the pattern that occurred in all major judicial races between a man and a woman in 2018.”

Thomas, a longtime political consultant known in the legal community as a “judge maker,” also managed the successful campaigns of Nevada Supreme Court Justice Elissa Cadish and Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Elana Lee Graham.

“It was an extremely difficult year to be a man and defeat a woman in a judicial race,” according to Thomas’ letter.

Judicial races in Nevada are nonpartisan.

Thomas, who is married to District Judge Nancy Allf, noted in his letter that Graham’s male opponent outspent her and that Cadish defeated Appeals Court Judge Jerry Tao, a man “on a higher court.” The letter did not mention that Cadish, a former district judge, spent five times as much as Tao on their race.

Holthus and Graham declined to comment on the letter. Cadish did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Thomas cited “societal factors that may have greatly influenced voters” in November. He pointed to allegations of sexual misconduct by men, the Women’s March earlier in the year and the Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Throughout Bailus’ campaign, he “attended events where primarily only women were present” and was told “they could not vote for him,” the campaign manager contended.

This week, after the Las Vegas Review-Journal reached out to the Nevada Supreme Court to inquire about the letter, Bailus pulled it from his application.

The high court organizes the nine-person judicial selection committee, which picks three finalists for each vacancy on the bench and forwards those names to the governor. Applications were due Friday.

Court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said the letter itself is unusual and not typically part of judicial applications. He said there is a separate process for “confidential letters of reference.”

Bailus did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story.

Sondra Cosgrove, president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada, said she encourages members to research candidates, particularly in down-ballot races.

“I am disappointed that someone decided to include comments on the suitability of a judicial appointment candidate that failed to speak to the applicant’s credentials and experience,” Cosgrove wrote in an email after being shown Thomas’ letter. “Whether voters used gender as a factor in deciding who to vote for or against is not relevant to the facts of the matter, and raising that issue does not assist the public nor the officials charged with filling a judicial vacancy with making an evidence-based decision on who will best serve the interests of our state on the bench.”

Bailus, 66, was appointed by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval to serve from May 2017 until the term expired last month.

He is seeking an appointment from Gov. Steve Sisolak for a seat vacated by Jennifer Togliatti, who retired last year. Four other men and one woman also have applied for the seat. They are expected to interview with the committee next month.

Thomas released a statement about the letter late Friday night that reads in part, “In my letter I never said Holthus won only because she was a woman, I only said Bailus’ defeat was more due to the political climate than his failure.”

“Holthus did receive a significant bump that gave her the lead over Bailus in my polling and I was not able to come up with an effective plan to turn around that bump in the 3 short weeks available to me. I take responsibility for not being able to overcome the political climate, it was not Judge Bailus’ task to develop that strategy,” the statement reads. “Many people can conclude that without the bump Holthus would not have won. That conclusion makes no judgment of Holthus or her abilities or her campaign efforts.”

According to Thomas’ letter, Bailus received endorsements from 17 organizations “and devoted more time to meeting with individual people and groups than any other candidate” that Thomas managed.

But according to Michael Green, an associate professor of history at UNLV who specializes in Nevada politics, women have experienced favorable results in judicial races for at least two decades.

“What happened in the last election with women candidates having success in running for judge was not only that they were highly qualified,” Green said. “There seems to be a trend in recent years.”

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

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