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Longtime attorney Hunt challenging Holthus in Dept. 18

A longtime Clark County attorney hopes his extensive civil law experience will be enough to unseat District Court Judge Mary Kay Holthus from the Department 18 bench during the November general election.

“I think what needs to change most in the judicial system is electing judges with experience, especially civil experience,” challenger John Hunt said during a recent debate hosted virtually by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

With vastly different backgrounds, both candidates touted decades of courtroom experience.

A former prosecutor, Holthus was elected in 2018 and took the bench in January 2019 after more than 27 years with the Clark County district attorney’s office, during which she handled general litigation as well as work with the Special Victims’ Unit.

“I’ve been in court nearly every day for the last three decades other than 14 days when we were in quarantine, and I held court right from this chair,” Holthus said from her home during the virtual debate. “I’ve handled thousands of cases, from misdemeanors to murders. I have the experience to balance justice for victims and fairness to the accused.”

Meanwhile, Hunt, an Air Force veteran who lost a bid for Nevada attorney general in 2002, has spent the last nearly 40 years primarily practicing civil law, including commercial litigation, real estate and administrative law. But, he pointed out during the debate, he also served as a pro-tem judge in Justice Court for a decade.

“With 36 years of experience, I’m ready, because I believe the most important thing is justice — justice from a criminal standpoint,” Hunt said. “It’s critical, so that poor people, people of color, know that there’s a judge up there that has empathy for them, not sympathy.”

Department 18 has a split docket of civil and criminal cases.

After two years on the bench, chief among Holthus’ concerns is expanding already existing specialty programs in District Court, such as felony DUI court, mental health court and diversion court.

“What I wish we had were more resources for the programs that we do have, that we had more room so that we didn’t have to have a waitlist, we didn’t have to refuse people because maybe we don’t have a bed in a particular program,” Holthus said.

The judge did not disclose any specific goals or plans to achieve such expansions, but said “I would certainly be open to anything that anybody came up with.”

Hunt, too, praised the specialty programs already in place but said each program should provide defendants with more mental health resources.

“I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on mental illness,” he said. “Mental illness touches every one of those programs… How is mental illness affecting each one of those programs? I think that needs to be addressed.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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