As Election Day nears, a race for Las Vegas justice of the peace continues to heat up.
Former Nevada Regent James Dean Leavitt posted online video attack ads against his opponent, prosecutor Elana Lee Graham, that have garnered more than 300,000 views.
Leavitt’s social media videos first appeared this month and accused Graham of trading campaign contributions for favorable deals in court.
Graham flatly denied the allegation.
“It’s a sad and desperate attempt to try to get clicks on Facebook,” she said. “He has no integrity, and he’s willing to try to gain footing with his failing campaign with absolute lies.”
The text on one video from Leavitt reads: “Elana Lee Graham aggressively soliciting contributions from lawyers with whom she has active cases, and then reduces charges against these defendants after receiving the contributions.”
It continues: “Justice for sale. Las Vegas can do better than Elana Lee Graham.”
Graham, 34, and Leavitt, 56, are vying to replace Deborah Lippis, who stepped down from the Department 1 seat after more than 25 years.
A few lawyers have joined the fray in support of Graham, contacting the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the social media posts. Criminal defense attorney Joel Mann, who donated $1,200 to Graham, took to Facebook himself.
“James Dean Leavitt’s statement that Elana Lee Graham sold out good deals to defense attorneys because she accepted campaign contributions from attorneys is an untrue and disgusting statement,” Mann wrote. “His very statement begs the question that every attorney that contributed to his campaign will not appear before him because there is an inherent quid pro quo? I have contributed to Elana Lee Graham’s campaign and I can say I received no benefit on any of my cases.”
Another defense attorney, Jess Marchese, donated $700 to the prosecutor’s coffers.
“She hasn’t given me any special treatment,” he said. “She’s a tough cookie. I took it on the chin on a case that I had with her.”
Leavitt said he could not point to specific cases where a contribution to Graham’s campaign resulted in a favorable deal from the prosecutor, but he questioned whether she should have received a donation from someone with whom she handles cases.
“It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” he said. “How do you inspire any confidence in the judiciary when you have a prosecutor soliciting campaign contributions? The concern is with the practice and the reality of political contributions. People often get favorable treatment when they make donations.”
Allison Stephens, who serves on the Board of Regents, appeared in one video.
“People who are able to contribute are going to see more favorable results with their clients,” she said in the video. “But an attorney who’s not able to contribute would see the opposite happen. Sounds to me like it’s justice for sale.”
Graham defended herself further, pointing out that other prosecutors who run for office, as well as sitting judges, often receive campaign donations from across the legal community.
“They know I’m a person of integrity and that I would never allow my campaign to influence my obligation as a prosecutor,” she said. “By his logic, every single deputy district attorney would be prohibited from running for the bench, because I don’t know how they would be able to fund a campaign.”
Graham and Leavitt already are squaring off in one of the most expensive low-ballot races in the valley’s history.
Leavitt, a regent from 2004 to 2016, has raised $347,000 for his campaign and spent nearly $325,000, according to the Nevada secretary of state’s campaign finance website. Graham, a prosecutor since 2011, raised more than $273,000 and spent nearly $262,000 on her campaign, the latest figures show.