By Mark Waite
Fifth Judicial District candidates tossed a few barbs at each other, livening up a Thursday night candidates forum at the Pahrump Nugget Hotel and Casino.
Sitting District Judge Kimberly Wanker said she went through a rigorous background vetting process before being appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval last year, after she made a short list of three candidates to replace the late John Davis.
“I am tough on crime. Now if you notice one thing, I hold people accountable and responsible and not only defendants. I will hold attorneys accountable and responsible. You see a complete change in the dress code, we now have a dress code. I start on time. If you’re not there on time, guess what? The case goes on without you,” Wanker said to applause.
Her opponent, attorney Nancy Lord, responded, “a judge is not supposed to have an agenda, even an honorable one like being tough on crime.”
“Leave the idea of ‘I am the queen’ at the courtroom door,” Lord added. “It’s important for a judge to know what it’s like on the other side of the counsel bench with a client whose whole life is on the line, whether it’s keeping a child or losing a business or going to prison. It’s a very powerful experience because only from there do you know how important the judge’s conduct is and when a judge rants on about how much power they have, it puts everybody else on edge.”
When Lord said she represented clients at 15 jury trials all over the country, Wanker said, “standing in the garage doesn’t make you an automobile, having 15 jury trials doesn’t make you a great trial judge.”
Wanker said in the eight jury trials she has overseen as judge, she received the highest rating from every juror because she treats jurors and defendants with respect.
“As I have been out campaigning, I have been stopped by a number of jurors who said, ‘this was the best experience I ever had; I would love to be a juror in your courtroom,’” she said.
Defendants in drug court who don’t have a job do 20 hours of community service per week and if they don’t have a car, she has a used bicycle program, Wanker said. She was concerned over people who can’t afford attorneys and hire people who aren’t attorneys sometimes for more money.
When asked how to process cases and improve efficiency, Wanker said it’s by stopping all the cases that get continued.
“That is something I won’t tolerate. There was continuance after continuance after continuance when I got here,” Wanker said. The fifth district has the second heaviest caseload behind Clark County, she said, so it’s important to dispose of cases.
When the new Pahrump jail opens, Wanker said attorneys will have better opportunities to meet with their clients.
Lord thought the efficiency question was about video conferencing, which she thought was a bad idea.
“It’s awful, especially before somebody’s been convicted, they deserve to come before the court and be heard eye to eye,” she said.
Lord touted herself as a people’s lawyer. Lord said she represented clients in a case against Valley Electric Association, which wanted to put a transformer over a historical mine in Johnnie and only wanted to pay $6,000 for the privilege. Her clients received about $20,000, she said. On an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Lord said the court agreed VEA had to pay her legal fees.
“I simply argued that if they didn’t have to pay they could come along and offer someone in a singlewide $500 to put a large transformer over it and they would have to take it because they would know their attorneys would not be paid,” Lord said.
Wanker wants to get more court forms available to residents and more technology in the courtroom, like an iPad program for jurors.
Lord was scolded by the forum’s moderator, county Commissioner Butch Borasky, for being late. Lord said her first obligation was to her clients.
Wanker said Lord missed a court date with a senior judge last week; Lord said she had a reconsideration motion on that case in her car.
Lord and Wanker weren’t the only judicial candidates at the forum. At the Pahrump justice court level, candidate Ron Kent said there are standard requirements for setting bail, the character of the individual, the gravity of the complaint, their prior history and any failure to appear in court.
“Everybody in this community perceives we have a revolving door of justice. I’m aware of that. I’m concerned about that. Repeat offenders are people who concern me very much. That would also be reflective of me in how I deal with them in their bail settings,” Kent said.
His opponent, Louis DeCanio, said he would use his own street smarts and common sense, judging people using his lifetime experience as a Chicago bar and restaurant owner and prison guard. He’d evaluate the gravity of the offense, whether the person is a flight risk, if they have family, if they lived in the community a long time, their prior record and whether they are a violent person.
“If you think you’re going to stand up before me and give me a snow job, it’s not going to work,” DeCanio said. He added, “I’ve seen two forms of justice here, we’ve got the people and we got the clique that runs everything and I want to tell you I’m one of the people. I tell you I want to make sure things are done right in that justice court and I don’t care who your connections are.”
DeCanio didn’t have any sympathy for repeat offenders.
“We must be doing something wrong because repeat offenders are repeat offenders because we allow it. Sometimes people say I’m a little too strict. I’m not too strict. I just want to do things right,” he said. “Believe me, people will not be repeat offenders if I’m justice of the peace.”
On another question, DeCanio said he’d be willing to have night court, though he came out to Pahrump originally to retire.
Kent said night court was considered previously by county commissioners and rejected.
“I would be willing to flex my schedule to do whatever is necessary, but there are so many other people involved and so many other economic considerations, one being unions, collective bargaining, overtime and scheduling,” Kent said.
DeCanio said he suggested to Sheriff Tony DeMeo allowing non-violent offenders in jail the chance to volunteer to clean up the community and get time off their sentence.
“A justice of the peace is a guard dog of the community. If you have a fence around your house, who do you want protecting it, a Doberman or a Chihuahua?” DeCanio asked.