Henderson attorney appointed to vacated Assembly seat

Henderson attorney Lesley Cohen on Tuesday became Nevada’s newest assemblywoman, appointed by the Clark County Commission to replace April Mastroluca.

Mastroluca, a fellow Democrat, abruptly resigned Nov. 30, citing personal family reasons.

"You just won an election," commission Chairwoman Susan Brager told Cohen after a brief discussion on agenda item No. 65 to fill the vacancy and a unanimous voice vote, a process that took a little more than two minutes.

Cohen, who turns 42 on Saturday, said she wants to quickly meet with the people she will represent in Assembly District 29 to gauge how they feel on issues from taxes to gun control before the Legislature convenes Feb. 4 in Carson City.

"I need to get up to speed pretty quickly," Cohen said in an interview outside the commission chambers. "I need to get out there and talk to my constituents as soon as I can."

Cohen, who specializes in family law, will serve on the Judiciary, Education, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining committees. She said she will take a leave of absence from her job to focus on the 120-day session, which is full-time work for the part-time citizen Legislature.

Asked whether she thinks the Legislature should take up gun control in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting tragedy and a mass killing in Carson City in 2011, Cohen said she hesitates to talk policy until she gets her sea legs and speaks with Nevada voters.

"I think this is all very new to me right now," Cohen said. "I have a lot of work to do."

In September 2011, a man used an illegally modified automatic assault weapon to kill four people and injure 14 at a Carson City IHOP a couple of miles from the Legislative Building. Lawmakers weren’t in session at the time. The shooter, who had a history of mental illness according to published reports, committed suicide.

On Friday, a heavily armed gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut school before killing himself. The incident has prompted a national debate about how to combat gun violence in America.

Cohen was recruited and recommended by the Assembly Democratic Caucus to replace Mastroluca, who was re-elected on Nov. 6 to a third term. Cohen will complete Mastroluca’s full two-year term. She will be sworn in Feb. 4, one of a dozen freshman in the 42-member Assembly when the Legislature convenes.

This year, Cohen was involved in politics by campaigning for Assemblyman Jason Frierson, a fellow Democrat and attorney. But she said it was a surprise when she got a call suggesting she apply for the Assembly post. She is single and has no children, giving her more flexibility than other candidates who were considered, an Assembly Democratic Caucus spokeswoman said.

"This wasn’t something I was thinking about, but I think it will be a great chance to serve my community," said Cohen, who added it’s too soon to say whether she would run for election to the post. "This is a unique opportunity."

Cohen moved to Las Vegas with her family in 1972. She attended the University of Nevada, Reno, receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1993. She got her law degree in 1996 from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. She is a volunteer with Legal Aid of Southern Nevada and helps lead a pet adoption group.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said Cohen "will be a tremendous asset."

"Lesley is a smart, thoughtful, and caring individual who will be a strong advocate for her constituents and for all Nevadans," Kirkpatrick said in a statement.

The County Commission had interviewed four finalists for the Assembly seat, including Cohen; University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bryan Spanglo; businessman Richard Fitzpatrick, who is the husband of Clark County Treasurer Laura Fitzpatrick; and Teralee Burbank, a federal government worker.

One applicant withdrew his name, and another didn’t live in the district, which is required.

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@ or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.

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