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Candidates for Family Court say goal is to help kids, move hearings quickly

In a debate between years as an attorney versus hours in a courtroom, two lawyers are vying for a Family Court judge position after defeating the incumbent in the primaries.

J. Scott MacDonald and Dedree “Dee” Butler argued their knowledge in a Las Vegas Review-Journal debate for Family Court Department J after defeating current Judge Rena Hughes in June.

MacDonald cited his 35 years of experience as a lawyer in Las Vegas, including three years in the Clark County District Attorney’s office prosecuting juvenile crime. MacDonald said he’s worked on enough divorce, custody and child support cases to be ready for anything as a judge.

“I’ve seen multiple families come to me more than once as they’ve navigated our system. It’s complicated,” he said.

Butler is a public defender who was accepted to the Nevada Bar in 2008. Butler said she began in family and juvenile law and is now working in domestic violence cases.

Both Butler and MacDonald cited their own legal battles after going though divorces with children involved. Butler said her own divorce in Clark County gave her a new sense of the urgency she wants Family Court litigants to feel.

“I have some clients waiting months,” she said. “The peace and happiness that comes with having a final divorce decree, for so many people is what they want, a final decision.”

The 25-minute debate was hosted by Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks, who asked each of the candidates how long they would give a birth parent who isn’t taking the right steps before terminating parental rights.

Both candidates agreed that the biological parent should be the preferred choice, and MacDonald even deferred to Butler’s experience with these cases. Butler said the current system of six and 12 month reviews with judges are because the goal is permanency, whether with the birth parent or not.

“Permanency is in the best interest of the child,” she said. “Children want to go home to their natural parents but we have to consider their safety.”

Butler said after representing more than 3,000 people in family and juvenile court, she recognizes the kind of judge she wants to be as someone who listens to the people in front of her and is prepared to hear the court. She said she loves the judges who say “I’ve read everything. I’m prepared. What do you have to add?”

“You should read the pleadings, you should know the law, but you should always be open to hearing what both parties have to say,” she said.

MacDonald and Butler both agreed the job is about helping the most vulnerable people in the legal system, because juveniles didn’t put themselves in family courtrooms.

“In the end I want to be known as someone who really took care of kids,” MacDonald said.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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