By Kelsey Givens
Pahrump’s newest elected justice of the peace officially took his seat on the bench in Pahrump Justice Court last week.
Ron Kent, a former chief civil deputy district attorney for Nye County and a private lawyer, has been a member of the community since 1998. Along with a degree in law, Kent reportedly brings 30 years of legal practice and knowledge with him to the position.
The new justice of the peace, who took the bench on Jan. 7, said while everything ran smoothly during his first few days in office, it was a little strange entering the courtroom last week behind the bench rather than in front of it.
“It was different. Of course, all of the procedures were strange to me. As a practicing attorney, you go to court and you’re focusing on the facts and evidence in your case and you really don’t pay attention to the administrative side of the bench and all of the procedural matters that are being attended to by the judge throughout the entire process. So that was a wake-up call for me taking the bench. You’ve got to take care of all of your procedural matters, your administrative matters and you’ve got to make and preserve your record,” he said. “But I do have to give credit to the bailiffs, court clerks, Judge Kent Jasperson and the rest of the court staff who bent over backwards to make my first week run smoothly.”
Despite having to quickly learn to approach courtroom procedures from a new perspective, Kent said he believes the transition from lawyer to justice of the peace will be made easier by the fact that he already knows the law, having been a practicing attorney for 30 years.
“Without seeming arrogant, I was the only candidate with a bachelor’s degree and a juris doctorate and 30 years of trial court litigation experience. I’m not going to have to take classes to learn what the law is, I know what the law is and I stay abreast of the law and I know how to update what I know through my research to stay on the cutting edge,” he said. “One of the things I enjoy, besides handling the criminal side of the office, is the civil side and that was always my strong suit. I came from private practice as a civil trial lawyer, so I believe my civil background is very strong and will also be a good fit for the needs of the civil litigants that come to justice court.”
When it comes to running his courtroom, Kent said he sees himself as lucky in the fact that he has friends and colleagues, whom he has worked with throughout his career, who currently sit on the bench in other areas of the state that he can look to for inspiration and advice.
“I was born and raised in Las Vegas and I practiced law for my entire career here in Southern Nevada. Many, many of my undergraduate classmates, law school classmates and colleagues are now on the bench. I have many friends that are on the bench in Clark County for the Eighth Judicial District Court and one of my former law partners is a recently retired Supreme Court justice. I can go to all of these people if I have questions. I respect all of them and I’ll be able to avail myself of their skills and their experience if I need to,” he said.
One thing that could be difficult for Kent is having to preside over cases with people he knows or has dealt with in town in the past.
Kent said he does not believe this will be an issue for him, however, as he doesn’t believe the people he knows or has had dealings with over the years will be likely to come before him in justice court.
If they do, the justice of the peace said he would make sure to disclose that relationship to all parties involved. He was forced to do just that on Thursday when the felony arson case of unsuccessful town board candidate Anthony Greco came before his court. Greco attempted to hire Kent as his lawyer previous to the JP taking the bench. Greco’s preliminary hearing in the case was moved to Jasperson’s court after Kent recused himself.
“It could be awkward, but it won’t be awkward and I’ve already given this a great deal of thought as well as researched it. Number one, I meant what I said during my campaign when I said I would be fair and impartial. There are many small communities scattered all over this state as well as this country where an attorney takes the bench and because of the attorney’s activities in the practice of law, contributions, civic events and so forth, the attorney will know many, many people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is going to be a conflict. But in instances where there are parties appearing before the court that I have some kind of prior, or current, relationship with, first and foremost I will disclose,” Kent said.
“If someone feels that it is an issue, I will considered it at that time, but I will always disclose if I have some type of significant relationship with them. … But I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue with anyone I know or have known here in the community,” he added.
In sticking to his campaign promises, the new justice of the peace said he has goals to address the issues of victims’ rights, predatory crimes and criminals, weapons crimes, crimes of violence and repeat offenders during his tenure.
Kent said he honestly believes the majority of people who come before the court are good people who simply made a mistake. If they are among the small percentage of people in Pahrump who have chosen to make their livelihood from illegal activities, however, he plans to work hard to stop the revolving door allowing them to go back out and commit further crimes.
“We have a lot of people that make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. But fundamentally these people coming into court, the vast majority I would say, are good decent people. And the purpose of the court, in my view philosophically, is just to help them get in compliance with the law and help them move on without shaming or humiliating them,” he said. “Unfortunately, we do have a small percent that have adopted a criminal lifestyle and have made that their livelihood. These are the people that come through the system over and over again that we see committed to two or three months in jail, and then go right back out and commit another offense. They are a drain on law enforcement, the courts and they’re the ones who victimize you, your loved ones and your neighbors.
“I will do my best and work hard to treat people right in my courtroom. The vast majority of people never have contact with the criminal justice system, and when they do, it’s our job to bring them into compliance and let them leave with dignity, there’s no reason to traumatize them, and hopefully we’ll never see them again,” he said.