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Mental health court key issue for Las Vegas judge candidates

Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Heidi Almase is facing a stiff challenge from longtime Clark County Deputy District Attorney Cara Campbell.

Almase, seeking a second six-year term on the bench, earned 42 percent of the vote in the April primary. Campbell, a first-time candidate for elected office, garnered 36 percent of votes cast, forcing a June 13 runoff.

Campbell outspent Almase by a 4-1 margin leading into the primary. Campbell’s 2017 total far outpaces Almase’s: $135,527 and $59,843, respectively. The gap between the two was significantly smaller in the most recent reporting cycle, where Campbell raised $43,789 between March 31 and May 19, to Almase’s $38,693.

Almase and Campbell both count the mental health court, started under Almase’s watch, a priority if they’re elected. The fledgling specialty court became fully operational with Las Vegas City Council funding in 2016.

Early voting runs through June 9.

Q&A with Judge Heidi Almase

Q: If elected, what is your top priority?

Expanding the mental health court. We would like the Administrative Office of the Courts to fund the court. We’ve been following how we spend money — tracking and auditing the program — so we can show we’re a good program and we ask for those dollars.

Q: Should the city build a new courthouse for the Las Vegas Municipal Court, and why?

A: The District and Justice courts are overcrowded. When this first started, the idea was the budget stays flat, there’s a minimal financial impact. I support it insofar as it doesn’t cost the taxpayers, it’s not this monster build with a huge price tag.

Q: What is your vision for the mental health court over the next two or three years?

A: In our first year, we had 0 percent recidivism. I would love to be able to maintain that. There’s a wide spectrum of ability we encounter, and when we expand, we need to be really flexible and organic with an eye to accountability and stability. So we expand conservatively.

Q: What kinds of policies and practices can the Municipal Court put in place to help alleviate jail overcrowding?

A: The risk assessment release is a good start at getting people who shouldn’t be in jail out of jail. The Nevada Bail Agents Association is a little frustrated in that process. I think we absolutely need to address their concern. This is a good start, but we need to tweak it a little bit.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the Las Vegas Municipal Court, and how do you propose overcoming it?

A: People who come in are frustrated with how many times they have to come to court. If they want to challenge a traffic ticket, they want to know why they have to come to court three times, why it’s such a hassle. We’re trying to modernize our services. I think that’s the biggest gripe I’ve heard from attorneys. That’s why my team and I always try to have that customer service environment in the courtroom. We should continue to work on streamlining the process.

Q&A with Cara Campbell

Q: If elected, what is your top priority?

A: My first priority would be to get up to speed with the mental health court. It’s a court I would be taking over, so I would want to do an accounting review or audit to see what could be done to improve it. If it’s cost-effective, and effective in general, I would want to work to improve on that, and work closely with the District Court judge who oversees the mental health court.

Q: Should the city of Las Vegas build a new courthouse for the Las Vegas Municipal Court, and why?

A: I’m a strong believer in if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, especially when taxpayer money is involved. I know there’s overcrowding at the Regional Justice Center. I don’t know if we could lease space that already exists, but I think there are ways to prevent using taxpayer money to build a new building.

Q: What is your vision for the mental health court over the next two or three years?

A: The most important thing is working together with the District Court mental health program to to better utilize those resources. It would be better to add more people to the program.

Q: What kinds of policies and practices can the Municipal Court put in place to help alleviate jail overcrowding?

A: I certainly wouldn’t be putting people in jail for nonpayment of fines on traffic matters. I think you could give them community service hours. Then, if they still don’t comply, you could put them in jail. Coming from this level, when I see people sitting in jail for a parking ticket or a trespass ticket, that’s not a person who needs to be sitting behind bars, costing taxpayers money and possibly losing their job.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the Las Vegas Municipal Court, and how do you propose overcoming it?

A: The outdated computer system. And again, I think the jail overcrowding is a huge issue. I think jail should be reserved for violent offenders, drunk drivers and repeat offenders.

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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