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EDITORIAL: Judicial survey a valuable tool for local voters

Southern Nevada voters won’t head to the polls for a general election until next November, but it’s wise to stay educated about potential issues and candidates. While information on those seeking national and statewide office is often readily available, voters have far fewer resources when it comes to down-ticket contests, particularly judicial races.

To help, the Review-Journal this year revived its “Judging the Judges” survey, which was published this week.

Nevada is one of about a dozen states that hold nonpartisan elections for all judges. But the campaigns are typically low-profile, featuring qualified candidates who refrain from staking out positions on hot-button topics, making it a challenge for even knowledgeable voters to make comparisons. The survey offers the perspective of local attorneys on the performance of judicial incumbents and can be an important tool to help voters hone their evaluations.

“In a way, the survey results can act as a sort of warning bell,” said Rebecca Gill, a UNLV professor who directed the project, “prompting us to gather more information about the judges that attorneys tend to rate much lower than their peers.”

The Review-Journal partnered with the UNLV Cannon Survey Center and the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada to produce the project. Some 5,200 attorneys in Clark County were invited to participate by anonymously answering questions about judges with which they have recently had professional experience. Nearly 700 lawyers responded.

For the most part, the results paint a positive picture of the Clark County judiciary. Out of 89 judges graded — from municipal judges all the way up to the Nevada Supreme Court — just 11 received a retention rating of less than 50 percent. Meanwhile, eight judges earned retention ratings of more than 90 percent: Henderson Municipal Court Judges Rodney Burr (95), Sam Bateman (93) and Stephen George (92); Judge Kalani Hoo in North Las Vegas Justice Court (94); Judge Bert Brown in Las Vegas Municipal Court (92); Judge Amy Chelini in Las Vegas Justice Court (92); Family Court Judge Bryce Duckworth (92); and District Court Judge Timothy Williams (90).

It’s worth noting that the results present only a snapshot — judges have and do improve over time based on suggestions, criticisms and observations offered by attorneys as part of the project. But a healthy democracy requires an informed citizenry, and the survey represents another arrow in the quiver of the civic-minded voter.

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