District Court Department 23 

Armstrong v. Lilly-Spears

By: - October 5, 2020 5:01 am

Jasmin Lilly-Spells has been Chief Deputy Public Defender with the Clark County Public Defender’s office for more than a decade, according to her website. She defends the legal needs of indigents. She’s also served as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected children and volunteers her time on cases for Nevada Legal Services.

“I give a voice to people society often wants to cast aside,” she says of her clients. 

She garnered more votes in the primary than her opponent, Karl Armstrong

“This is a trial courtroom,” Lilly-Spells says. “Although Mr. Armstrong has more years of experience than me, I have more quality of experience because I’m in a courtroom. It’s been a number of years since he’s represented clients or been in a courtroom litigating an issue.”

“I have the qualities that are needed in judges,” she says. “Courage, integrity and commitment.”

“It takes courage to argue something I don’t necessarily agree with,” she says. “The client deserves the same level of advocacy regardless of the crime. I’m a mother of four. I don’t want child porn in the community. But I have to advocate for that offender and put aside my feelings.” 

Lilly-Spells has served as a CASA for children in the foster care system, where her role was to look out for the best interests of the child.

“You have to look at every single aspect of the child’s life. You have to communicate with every person,” she says, adding it’s an experience that has prepared her to be a judge.

Effectively managing cases requires “holding the attorneys to a certain level of competence,” she says. “I expect attorneys to be prepared. I’m going to have questions to ensure I can make the best decision.”

Lilly-Spells says she is cognizant of how life experience has landed her clients where they are today. 

“I had a case with a person who had grown up in the foster care system, but after you are 25-years-old, the presentence report no longer includes that juvenile info. People don’t want to tell you their story,” she says of her clients. 

“I realized that just looking at the PreSentence Information, an attorney would just see a person who had a bunch of convictions,” she says. “I knew there was more history than just the convictions. It made me take a step back and realize how often attorneys negotiate on the basis of the number of convictions, rather than how a person got there.” 

“The State of Nevada is the parent in foster cases. When they age out and haven’t been given the services they need, they just age out to the criminal justice system,” she says. “I’m very interested in what we can do on the front end to prevent that.”  

Lilly-Spells says she doesn’t think “people realize the significance of voting in the down ballot races. President is not the most important office you vote for.”  

“We need judges to take to heart what it means to do the job with respect and kindness,” she says. “Not be beholden because they are rich or friends with someone.”  

Lilly-Spells has raised $64,910 and had less than $8,345 remaining as of October 15. 

Her opponent, Armstrong, is the Appeals Officer for the Nevada Department of Administration.  He’s been a deputy attorney general and an assistant general counsel for the University and Community College System of Nevada, according to his website. Armstrong was a public defender 30 years ago for three years. 

He’s also a member of the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission. He did not respond to requests for an interview. 

Armstrong has raised $51,660 and has about $1,934 on hand as of October 15.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.