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A former Family Court judge, two private attorneys and a public defender are vying to become Las Vegas Justice of the Peace in Department 6, a position left open by the resignation of former Justice Rebecca Kern in January.
Former Judge William Gonzalez was appointed by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons in 2009 to Family Court. He was elected to the seat in 2010 but lost a re-election bid in 2014. He also lost a 2020 race for a new department in Family Court.
Gonzalez, who was admitted to the Nevada Bar in 1997, has an error rate of 36.36% out of 48 cases appealed, according to Our Nevada Judges, an organization that tracks judicial records. An error rate of less than 10% warrants a positive recognition by the organization.
Gonzalez did not respond to requests for an interview.
Campaign finance reports indicate Gonzalez has raised a total of $2,500 in the form of five contributions of $500 each, all dated March 17, from five PACS related to Laborers Local 872 – DNC PAC, Nevada Progressives United PAC, G.O.P., Laborers for a Solid State Leadership, and 872 PAC.
Attorney Jessica Goodey said she decided to run for the bench in Dept. 6 because of delays in getting cases resolved. Her website says it takes three and a half years on average to get a case to trial.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Goodey says. “Attorneys have deadlines that we have to follow in order to make sure our cases move forward quickly and efficiently. Those same deadlines don’t always apply to the court.”
Goodey says she’s handled “everything from business disputes, medical malpractice, personal injury, landlord/tenant, breach of contract – really all forms of civil cases that would be handled by this court.”
“Because this is a civil department, I think we need judges with civil experience handling the types of cases that they will be deciding,” she says.
Goodey says remote hearings, which became essential during COVID court closures, help make court accessible for everyone.
“They don’t have to take an entire day off of work, or manage child care, to come into court to sit for 10 or 15 minutes,” she says.
As a Las Vegas Municipal Court alternate and a hearing master in small claims court, Goodey says she routinely sees litigants who are representing themselves.
“Slowing things down a bit while you’re in court to make sure that the pro se litigant understands what’s happening and what is expected of them – I think helps a lot,” she says. “This is new to them and so they don’t always understand the lingo.”
Goodey has raised $38,000, according to campaign finance reports. She says fundraising is “probably the one thing I don’t do enough because it’s not my favorite thing to do.”
She says she doesn’t think there’s a correlation between qualifications to be a judge and the ability to raise money, noting campaigning “is a full time job”, given “the sheer number of unions and other groups that do endorsement proceedings” in the short time between filing and the primary.
“There’s quite a few questionnaires and interviews to get completed and scheduled,” she says.
Public defender Tracy Hibbetts says she’s running for Justice Court Dept. 6 because she has a background in criminal as well as civil law.
An immigrant from Hong Kong, Hibbetts moved to Las Vegas as a child and learned English as a second language.
She began her work in Justice Court in 2010 as an intern to former Justice of the Peace Nancy Oesterle. “It was a mixed docket and it became exclusively criminal,” she says.
Hibbets went to work for the Clark County Public Defender in 2012.
“For the past 10 years I’ve had thousands of cases and hours spent in Justice Court. I know the good, the bad and the ugly and I can change and improve it,” she says.
One timesaving change she says she’d implement is to have litigants provide documents required by the court ahead of time via email, rather than during court, where the process creates delays and parties “fumble up at the podium for 20 minutes.”
She says her job as a public defender has been aided by the seminal Valdez-Jimenez vs. Eighth Judicial District case, which places the burden on prosecutors to make the case that a defendant requires a bond for release. Legislative reforms passed in 2021 as part of AB 236 are evident in District Court, she says, where the new law distinguishes between types of parole violations, allowing judges to mete out consequences accordingly, providing “accountability but not sending the probationer right back to prison.”
Hibbetts supports retaining virtual court appearances post-pandemic because they assist her clients, especially those who are out of state.
“I do get those calls from clients,” she says. “‘This is going to cost me a tank of gas or airplane tickets just to enter a no contest plea.’ I believe that remote hearings should still be an option, but certain things that are more confrontational, such as a preliminary hearing, must be in person.”
Fundraising, Hibbetts says, “is a necessary evil. I don’t mind it, but obviously, trying to balance a full time job and then full time campaigning, it can be a struggle.” She’s raised just under $50,000.
She says she disagrees with the notion that the ability to raise money is an indicator of a candidate’s qualifications for the job, adding she favors a hybrid system of judicial selection where appointed judges face retention elections.
“Voters want to have a voice as to who the judges are. But in the legal world, we also want to know we have the most qualified people going up to the bench,” she says. “I have considered the appointment process as well, but it may be influenced by connections.”
Hibbets’ husband is a recently retired Metro sergeant. She says his experiences in law enforcement “help me see different perspectives” while retaining her principles.
Attorney Augusta Massey was born in Nigeria. She says her family left the country after she and her siblings witnessed their father’s murder.
“Coming to America was the ultimate dream,” she says, but the dream quickly turned into a nightmare shortly after their arrival when her 12 year-old brother, while riding his bike, was killed by a drunk driver.
“It opened up a new world for me,” she says of her first glimpse of the legal system. In addition to supporting the criminal case against the driver, the family pursued justice by suing the government “because there were no sidewalks, no speed bumps – nothing that could have prevented this lady from going so fast, nothing that would have protected little children who are walking home from school every day. It showed me that I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to help other families.”
Massey says she’s primarily practiced civil law during her 14 years as an attorney in Las Vegas.
“During the recession I became a foreclosure mediator, helping members of the community work through the crisis,” she says. “I feel the bench is the next level of service.”
As an immigrant, Massey says she’d like to augment accessibility for more foreign language speakers, citing statistics regarding the prevalence of immigrants in Southern Nevada.
She’s also supportive of retaining remote hearings after the pandemic.
“I can see the benefits for a single mom who’s trying to work and trying to get time off work and can’t really do so without losing benefits or isn’t able to make rent that month because she’s short,” she says. “I think we can possibly incorporate more technology.”
Massey also suggests staggering hearing times “so someone is not sitting in the courtroom from 8 a.m. and their case is not called until 11.”
Raising money for a campaign “puts you in an ethical conundrum” she says. She reports raising $10,759 in the first period.
“There’s that appearance that you’re taking money from people who may appear in front of you,” she says. “I have a little bit of distaste for that. At the same time, I don’t know what the solution is.”
Massey says she finds the judicial election process problematic. “But there are a lot of problems with the appointment process when you start looking at diversity and equity and how people are selected.”
She says judges are often disconnected from the real-life impacts of their rulings.
“I just feel like we need more compassionate judges,” she says. “And I don’t think that compassion makes you dumb or makes you not follow the law. It makes you human. It makes the people in front of you human.”
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