Jake Villani is a career prosecutor who wants to replace retiring Judge Ken Cory.
Villani says he wants to become a judge for the same reason he became a prosecutor over a public defender.
“As a District Attorney, my job is to seek justice. I have prosecutorial discretion to dismiss a case if I want,” he says. Villani, who is not related to Judge Michael Villani, says every day he has “violent criminals I’m arguing to judges need to be removed from society.”
“What I see as a prosecutor is people with seven, eight, nine felonies getting a chance to go out again and victimize our community,” he says.
“We need to be more cognizant of the recidivism rate and make sure we’re using resources for people who want help,” he says of the trend toward diversion and other community-based programs. “We are forcing people into boxes they don’t want to be in. Taxpayers are paying the bill when they go out and reoffend.”
Villani has raised about $17,729 and has $2,798 on hand.
Villani says he’s “victim-focused.”
“I think our court system has turned away from victims,” he says. “These people we’re allowing out on low-level electronic monitoring — when they reoffend it’s not ‘oh we were wrong.’ You have another victim out there and victims are tired of this.”
“These are real crimes that people are committing and what the public thinks is happening isn’t what’s happening at all,” he says, referring to the perception that doing the crime results in doing the time.
“I want to change from the defendant-focused, ‘put everyone in treatment,’ mentality,” he says, adding he’s a “firm believer in second chances but third and fourth chances must stop.”
He says as a judge, he’d treat all who appear before him the same.
“No matter how much money they have, you follow the law,” he said, adding that’s how he’s personally handled cases.
He declined to discuss criticism that District Attorney Steve Wolfson offers sweetheart plea deals to the wealthy, such as billionaire Henry Nicholas, who along with his co-defendant, paid $1 million to charities to settle criminal drug possession charges, and Las Vegas real estate mogul Scott Gragson, sentenced in September to serve a negotiated minimum eight years for a fatal drunk driving accident.
“I have nothing to do with those cases,” Villani said.
Villani faces former Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Bita Yeager, who lost her re-election bid in 2016.
“Bita is a nice person,” he said. “I’ll definitely be a better judge. The voters have already decided that she’s not qualified for justice court.”
Yeager has 18 years experience as a public defender, according to her website.
In addition to her criminal work, Yeager had a civil calendar during her two years on Justice Court, where she heard landlord/tenant cases and disputes under $10,000.
She’s raised $209,739 as of October, primarily from law firms, and has about $24,558 remaining.
Yeager says she started the Community Courts programs in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. Young, non-violent offenders with no prior felonies or gross misdemeanors, learn to overcome challenges and lead productive lives.
The courts partner with social workers and public defenders to determine the best plan for each individual.
Yeager says her many years as a public defender will not render her pro-defense on the bench.
“I’ve been a judicial officer for the last five years,” she says. “I think anyone who comes before me believes I’m even-handed.”
Yeager says access to justice for all is one of her biggest concerns, given the cost of legal representation and the skills needed to navigate the halls of justice without a lawyer.
“As a judge, you’re not the coach on either side. You call the balls and strikes. You’re supposed to be fair and impartial,” she says, but that doesn’t mean judges can’t ensure litigants know how to get the information they need.
Yeager says in addition to the Civil Law Center, which she says “does a great job,” she’d like to see classes for pro se litigants on Zoom.
“Or you may not have access to technology,” she said, suggesting the courts could partner with libraries so people could remain in their neighborhoods.
Her experience dealing with defendants who have co-occurring drug and mental health disorders would be an asset to the entire court, she says.
“Because so many people in the criminal justice system have behavioral problems and addictions, I’d be able to educate my colleagues,” she says, adding she and Chief Judge Linda Bell “did a Zoom class to all the district courts about behavioral health considerations in sentencing and release.”
Yeager says she strives to explain to participants in court the purpose of the hearings and her reason for her decisions.
“When people think you’ve listened to their arguments and heard them they have confidence in the court system,” she says.