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EDITORIAL: Watkins, Herndon, Johnson, Crockett for District Court

Clark County voters will decide 28 judgeships this fall, 15 in District Court and 13 in Family Court. The roadside campaign signs for these races, which line entire city blocks across the valley, are reminders of the importance of the judiciary, and the importance of electing qualified, experienced candidates to the bench.

Every department is important — judges are charged with protecting our rights and have the power to take away our freedom and property — but four races jump off the ballot. Two feature matchups of exceptionally strong candidates, and two provide voters with an exceptionally clear choice. The Review-Journal offers the following endorsements:

In Department 2, Richard Scotti and John Watkins are vying to succeed the retiring Valorie Vega. Mr. Scotti has 26 years of experience handling all kinds of litigation, and he served as counsel in one of the longest and most complex trials in Nevada history, the Venetian lien case. He has worked as a Supreme Court settlement judge and a mediator. Mr. Watkins, meanwhile, has practiced criminal and civil law for 34 years, including extensive appellate experience before the Nevada Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Watkins also served as the state commander of the Nevada National Guard Reserve.

Each of these men would make an excellent judge. Both have extensive courtroom and trial experience. Both are capable of handling complicated cases with millions of pages of documents. Both are highly rated by their peers in the legal community. But Mr. Watkins has the edge here because of the depth of his experience and his passion for the Constitution and the rights enshrined in it. The Review-Journal endorses John Watkins in Department 2.

In Department 3, incumbent Judge Douglas Herndon is being challenged by Michael Davidson. Judge Herndon, a former prosecutor, has been one of Clark County’s highest-rated District Court judges since he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Kenny Guinn in 2005. In last year’s Review-Journal Judicial Performance Evaluation, 81 percent of attorneys who participated in the survey said Judge Herndon should be retained. In fact, Judge Herndon enjoys such a good reputation, based on his preparation and application of the law, that he won election in 2006 and 2008 unopposed.

Few lawyers can match Mr. Davidson’s 35 years of experience. He has practiced criminal and civil law in private practice and worked as the county’s assistant district attorney, North Las Vegas’ deputy city attorney and a Supreme Court settlement judge. We thought he should have been a judge years ago. We endorsed him in 2010 and 2012 in District Court races he narrowly lost, and he was a finalist for appointment to vacant District Court judgeships multiple times.

But Mr. Davidson is running in the wrong department this year. The Review-Journal editorial board asked a standard question of dozens of judicial candidates this year: Which local judges would you emulate? The name that came up most often — indeed, in almost every interview — was Douglas Herndon. In Department 3, the Review-Journal endorses Douglas Herndon, one of the finest judges in Nevada.

Department 22 offers voters a much easier choice. Judge Susan Johnson, who is being challenged by Jacob Hafter, deserves re-election on her own merits. In last year’s Review-Journal Judicial Performance Evaluation, 71 percent of attorneys said she should be retained.

Mr. Hafter, an Orthodox Jew, marginalized his own candidacy earlier this year when he went on a social media tirade, calling District Judge Valorie Vega a racist and an anti-Semite during his trial before her. It was an especially foolish statement, considering Judge Vega’s husband, Review-Journal gaming reporter/columnist Howard Stutz, is Jewish. But the remarks could have led to a mistrial, which would have wasted court time and taxpayer resources.

Mr. Hafter is unfit for the bench. The Review-Journal endorses Judge Susan Johnson in Department 22.

Jim Crockett and Joe Hardy Jr. want to replace retiring Judge James Bixler in Department 24. Mr. Hardy, the son of the state senator of the same name, has built a strong civil litigation resume in 14 years as a lawyer. But his experience is no match for Mr. Crockett’s 40 years of trial work. The State Bar of Nevada has certified only five attorneys as specialists in civil trial advocacy, and Mr. Crockett is one of them. Voters should jump at the chance to elevate someone with Mr. Crockett’s background to the judiciary, which too often attracts candidates who lack the experience to be excellent judges. The Review-Journal endorses Jim Crockett in Department 24.

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