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Four candidates, including appointed judge, vie for seat on justice court

Cybill Dotson, Noreen DeMonte, Vincent Ginn, and Mark Karris

Policy, politics and progressive commentary

When former Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson resigned last year from Justice Court, 14 attorneys applied in June 2021 to be appointed to fill the vacancy in Department 10. Now, four of them, including the successful applicant, are once again vying for the seat. 

The Clark County Commission appointed Cybill Dotson in October 2021 to the vacancy. Dotson says the appointment process “took a long time,” allowing her to preside in justice court for just a few months before beginning the campaign to retain the seat. 

Justices of the Peace adjudicate misdemeanors, traffic cases, arraignments, civil disputes under $15,000, small claims cases and landlord tenant disputes.

County Commissioner Ross Miller, in appointing Dotson, praised her civil experience, especially in handling evictions, however, the department is one of two that currently hear domestic violence cases.

“Before I took the bench, I practiced for 18 years,” says Dotson, who says she did “a lot of civil and a little criminal work” as an attorney. Her website says she ran the commercial litigation department at a private firm and worked as a field lawyer for an insurance company, litigating auto accident and landowner liability cases. 

Dotson reports raising $33,750 for the first reporting period, which ended March 31. She has $16,000 on hand. 

“You can always raise more money I guess, but I think I’m doing okay, and probably ramping up over the next month or so before the primary,” she says.   

Dotson says she supports a proposal under consideration by a Nevada Supreme Court commission to extend the use of remote court hearing apps such as BlueJeans beyond the pandemic. She says defendants  who enter a plea for domestic violence are allowed to appear remotely for status checks, as long as they are meeting requirements she imposes. 

“I think it works, especially in our court and in a lot of the criminal courts, because in Las Vegas we have tourists come to town, they get in trouble and they leave town,” she says. “So when it comes to out-of-state defendants, I think BlueJeans helps a lot.”

Defendants who fail to stay on top of their requirements must appear in person, she says.

Dotson says she’s confident voters will choose to retain her. “I have a pretty good reputation in the legal community,” she says.  

Noreen DeMonte has been a prosecutor for 18 years, according to her website, and is currently a chief deputy district attorney. She did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.  

Her website says for the past twelve years she’s worked with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Repeat Offender program “to identify career criminals and bring them to justice.” She is endorsed by local law enforcement unions.

DeMonte has been in Las Vegas for more than two decades, according to her website.

She ran for Department 10 in 2016 and applied to fill the vacancy in that department last year. She has raised no money for this race, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state.  

Attorney Vincent Ginn is making his fifth bid for the judiciary. He lost a race for LV Justice Court Department 1 in the 2012 general election, was defeated in the 2016 election for Department 7, tried again for Department 1 in 2018 and lost in the primary, and applied last year to be appointed to Department 10.   

The native Las Vegan says he’s been practicing for 17 years, first as a prosecutor for the City of Las Vegas and since 2012 as a criminal defense attorney.  

“I’ve been told that I would make a great judge. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back but that’s what people say,” Ginn says, suggesting Dotson lacks the criminal experience for the department. “She’s never done criminal law where I have literally done almost every aspect of law,” 

Ginn says he’s chosen not to raise money, citing “the whole women empowerment thing that’s going on right now. If I get kicked out of the race just based on my gender, there’s no point in raising all this money because it’s just going to sit in an account that I can’t touch anyway.”  

“It is my belief, and only my belief, that especially this last election and the election before that, if you were of the female gender, that you would pretty much get more votes than if you were a male. And I’m not trying to be sexist,” he says. “Normally incumbents will make it.” 

Two male incumbents on Clark County District Court, Richard Scotti and William Kephart, lost their seats to women in 2020 and two male incumbents retained their positions.

Ginn says legislative efforts at criminal justice reform have cost him income, citing the decriminalization of traffic tickets as an example. 

“It has personally hit me hard because I’m not saying that my practice is primarily traffic tickets, but I do have a lot of tickets. Unfortunately, I get it. The poor or the indigent don’t have to get attorneys to help them with their traffic tickets because there’s not that opportunity for them to get a better deal,” he says.

Ginn says he’s also lost business because of bail reforms mandated by the Valdez-Jimenez v. Eighth Judicial Court case, which sets a new standard for requiring bail.  

“I have lost business because of the lack of putting bail on people and then just releasing them on ORs (own recognizance).  If they’re straight OR’d, then a lot of times they just get a public defendant and I’m out a client,” he said.  

On the positive side, he says bail reform can help address the plight of indigents who are unable to post bail.  

“The judge will say ‘I’m going to set it at $5,000. Might as well be a million dollars,” he says.  

Ginn says he’s witnessed race-based disparity in the ability of people of color to make bail. “So the answer is, I do believe in some of the reforms, just not all of it.” 

Mark Karris describes himself as a “general practitioner,” though he says he takes on mostly civil cases in his private practice, 

“Existing clients, prior clients, people who know me in the community will call upon me and ask for my assistance in criminal matters,” he says, adding he’s qualified to take on the department’s domestic violence caseload.  

“Of the four of us, I’m the most qualified candidate. I’ve been practicing law for nearly 30 years,” he says, starting out as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts where he had “more than 30 jury trials” before moving to Las Vegas in 1999 and joining the Clark County District Attorney’s Appellate Division, where he worked for “more than a year arguing or writing briefs,” including appearing before the state supreme court. He has since worked for a number of firms. 

“So I have covered both criminal and civil matters,” he says. “I have handled every type of case that the justice court has jurisdiction over.” 

Like others in the legal community, Karris is awaiting direction from the state supreme court on the future of remote court hearings, which became essential during the pandemic.  

“It does definitely promote more accessibility to the court, whether it’s for practitioners like myself or for litigants to be able to appear in a much more convenient manner,” he says. “To be in the courtroom is the ideal situation. If it’s an extraordinary circumstance or someone’s unable to make it unable to be present, sure, it’s a great tool to be able to have on an as-needed basis. My opinion, however, would be to come back to the court.”

Karris declined to comment on recent legislative efforts to enact criminal justice reforms. 

“The Legislature is the appropriate place to hash out any kind of changes, whether they’re on the criminal or civil side when it comes to judicial reform. And the judiciary has to apply those changes as they are approved by the Legislature,” he says. ”I think there’s always room to improve our system” for litigants.

Karris raised $2,500 for the first reporting period, according to his campaign finance report. 

“I’ll be honest with you. I think the notion of fundraising for judicial candidates has a little bit of an unseemly character to it, because much of that occurs within the bar,” he says. “And I think for the average person that might not particularly sit well, and they might question whether or not there isn’t a tinge of bias that may be carried with those donations.” 

Karris says he’s “not going to sit on the bench and make decisions by virtue of who’s appearing in front of me thinking about well in two years, four years, six years, I have to run for re-election and I want to make sure I stay in that person’s good graces. I’m not looking to make this a career. It’s about doing the job and it’s doing the job you need to do, even for one term.” 

The post Four candidates, including appointed judge, vie for seat on justice court appeared first on Nevada Current.

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Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of Nevada-today.com and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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