LAS VEGAS JUSTICE OF THE PEACE DEPARTMENT 7

Justice of the Peace Karen Bennett is in a new election year, but is still dogged by old accusations of not doing well on the Review-Journal’s “Judging the Judges” surveys.

She has continually placed at or near the bottom of the polls of local attorneys since she was appointed to the post in 2002. But she discredits the rankings because she believes they’re made up of lawyers with personal, not professional, issues.

The Thurgood Marshall School of Law graduate said she doesn’t mind the criticism — she expects it as a public servant.

She has already been selected by her peers as the next chief judge, provided she survives the election, she said.

Her opponent is local attorney Robert Kurth, who has run for office and lost three times, most recently in 2004. The University of Denver College of Law graduate said the “Judging the Judges” surveys showed that some attorneys questioned Bennett’s fairness.

“I think somebody in that department needs to be fair and unbiased,” he said.

He said he wants to improve the position by limiting the number of court appearances for a case. Instead of dragging defendants into court only to have the hearing delayed, Kurth said, he would encourage the use of “status checks” instead. Status checks require attorneys only to attend. He said the practice cuts court costs.

Kurth added that his experience as an arbitrator in District Court and as a former alternate child support hearing master qualified him for the position.

If she wins re-election, Bennett said her role as chief judge will include making the justice court system more efficient. It is currently overwhelmed, with crowded jails and massive case loads, she said. One way to alleviate the pressure would be to establish an initial appearance court, where people can see a judge within eight hours of arrest. Currently people who don’t bail out of jail, including low-level offenders, wait as long as 72 hours to see a judge, which costs taxpayers money, she said.

She said establishing such a court wouldn’t require new judges or more money – just a reorganization of schedules.

Bennett also said she has worked to reduce criminal recidivism in the courts by handing out creative sentences for low-level, first-time offenders. Those have included transitional programs and work placement, she said.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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