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RJ Endorsements: Nevada Supreme Court, District Court primaries

The coronavirus threat has prompted officials to make significant changes to Nevada’s June 9 primary election. While a handful of precincts will be open in Clark County on the election day, the balloting will be conducted primarily by mail in order to limit the risk of infections.

The 2020 primary is of greater importance this year because a significant number of contests — particularly for judicial seats — could potentially be decided in advance of November’s general election. Under Nevada law, candidates in nonpartisan races with more than two entrants will be declared victorious if they amass better than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters advance to the general.

Judicial races provide unique challenges for voters. The candidates are generally highly educated and well-qualified, yet they are traditionally more low-profile and reluctant to discuss political philosophy. In the interest of providing readers with more tools to assess the judicial seats that may be decided in the primary, the Review-Journal conducted a series of candidate debates that are available online at reviewjournal.com/tag/judicial-debates/. Below, we offer our recommendations in selected judicial contests.

Two seats on the Nevada Supreme Court may be filled following the June primary.

In Department B, Chief Justice Kristina Pickering faces Esther Rodriguez and Thomas Christensen. Chief Justice Pickering has served two terms on the high court and has proven a consistent defender of open government. When a District Court judge ordered the Review-Journal to destroy certain autopsy records it had obtained, she authored the opinion overturning that decision. “The First Amendment does not permit a court to enjoin the press from reporting on a redacted autopsy report already in the public domain,” she wrote. The chief justice received good scores in the Review-Journal’s Judging the Judges survey last year, with 75 percent of responding attorneys in favor of her retention. The Review-Journal recommends a vote for Kristina Pickering.

In Department D, three candidates — Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, District Court Judge Douglas Herndon and former Assemblyman Erv Nelson — seek to replace Supreme Court Justice Mark Gibbons, who is retiring. Judge Herndon has regularly earned high marks in the RJ judicial survey, receiving an 85 percent retention rating last year. Judge Herndon has 15 years experience on the bench and understands the importance of constitutional principles such as the separation of powers. He also had the humility to come forward last year in support of a bill to compensate those who have been wrongly convicted after it was revealed he had, as an assistant prosecutor, played a role in such an injustice. Judge Douglas Herndon is our choice.

For District Court Department 2, we recommend a vote for Carli Kierny, a public defender with a decade of experience. Incumbent Judge Richard Scotti has had temperament problems and received a substandard retention rating of 52 percent in the RJ judicial survey. In addition, last year he misapplied state open record statutes regarding the availability of autopsy reports.

In District Court Department 3, Adam Ganz, with 20 years of civil experience stands out. Mr. Ganz describes himself as a “strict constructionist” who would avoid activism from the bench.

In District Court Department 4, attorney Phil Aurbach is the best choice to replace retiring Judge Kerry Earley. Mr. Aurbach has 42 years of legal experience and the demeanor to make a fine jurist.

In District Court Department 5, attorney Terry Coffing has 28 years legal experience in Southern Nevada in both civil and criminal law. Mr. Coffing sits on the Board of Governors of the Nevada State Bar and has served a judge pro tem for 15 years. He vows to emphasize “efficiency, transparency and consistency.”

In District Court Department 15, there’s no compelling reason to replace incumbent Judge Joe Hardy Jr., who is seeking a second term. Judge Hardy was ranked in the top third of District Court jurists in the RJ’s 2019 judicial survey and has been a consistent defender of public records.

In District Court Department 19, incumbent Judge William Kephart faces two challengers. Judge Kephart has had his issues, including a 55 percent retention rating in Judging the Judges. But he is the best choice in this field.

In District Court Department 21, Jacob Reynolds is our pick to replace retiring Judge Valerie Adair. Mr. Reynolds has practiced law for 14 years and describes himself as a “originalist, constitutionalist and also a textualist.”

District Court Judge Stephanie Miley declined to seek re-election in District Court Department 23. Karl Armstrong, a senior appeals officer for the Nevada Department of Administration with 30 years legal experience, would be our choice in this crowded field.

In District Court Department 24, five hopefuls are seeking to replace retiring Judge Jim Crockett. Our choice is Mickey Bohn, who has more than three decades of legal experience, including 25 years as a court-appointed arbitrator.

In District Court Department 28, incumbent Judge Ron Israel has two challengers. Judge Israel was one of two District Court jurists that failed to achieve a 50 percent retention rating in our 2019 judicial survey, coming in at a dismal 46 percent. Jim Cavanaugh, a former Marine who has 27 years legal experience and understands the folly of clogging our jails with nonviolent offenders, gets the nod.

On Wednesday: Family Court endorsements.

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