Deputy public defender challenges judge in North Las Vegas race

Challenger arrested as legal observer at BLM march

By: - October 22, 2020 5:59 am
Lee Harris

North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Chris Lee (left) and challenger Belinda T. Harris

North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Chris Lee is defending his seat against a challenge from Belinda T. Harris, a Clark County deputy public defender.

Lee is seeking a third term on the bench. He’s a former deputy secretary of state and served as a prosecutor for the Clark County District Attorney. He’s a military veteran and the founder of the North Las Vegas Veterans Treatment Court.

Lee says he’s focused on improving access to justice for litigants representing themselves in Justice Court.

“We still take paper filings,” he says of the court. Many courts have abolished paper filings, requiring individuals representing themselves to file electronically, which can be a hardship.

“Being here at the ground level, because we are able to interact so closely with the litigants here, we’ve set up a kiosk with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Anyone can come into our lobby and use a computer.”  

Lee says the court is planning to have a similar kiosk at North Las Vegas City Hall, recognizing that “folks may not know the difference between Justice and Municipal courts.”  

Lee said during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his job as a judge is to protect the most vulnerable.  

“I think it’s an important role of a judge or anyone in society. I’ve dedicated my entire career to that,” he says.  

His challenger, Clark County Deputy Public Defender Belinda T. Harris says that’s not the role of the bench.

“Everyone in the courtroom should be given a fair chance. A person can be a victim one day and a defendant the next,” she said. “There but for the grace of God go I. I don’t think you should classify a person as being vulnerable or needing more protection.” 

“I think I bring a diverse outlook to the job because I believe the law can be applied in a fair manner, and I don’t believe in a ‘one-size fits all’ approach because each case has its own set of facts,” she said.

Harris finds fault not just with her opponent, but North Las Vegas Justice Court as a whole. 

“People are waiting too long in custody, cases are not being reviewed, and the law is not being applied,” she said of defendants being held “three or four days without a complaint filed.” 

The public defender recently found herself in zip ties. Harris was serving as a legal observer at a Black Lives Matter protest in June when video shows she was stormed by Las Vegas Metropolitan police, swept from the sidewalk of the Las Vegas Strip and detained.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said the observers were “antagonizing and obstructing our officers.” 

Lee criticized his opponent for taking part in the protest while running for the bench.  

But Harris is unapologetic. 

“I don’t want people to be treated differently because of their economic status, their gender, their gender identity,” she said. “I thought we all felt that way.” 

“We don’t want to have these bold and honest conversations. We have traffic stops turning into death sentences,” she said. “I don’t think anybody likes that. I don’t think the police like that.”

Harris is a native of Southern Nevada. 

“When I win my election it will be historic because a Black judge has never been elected in North Las Vegas,” she says.   

Lee says his experience adjudicating eviction proceedings during the Great Recession “is so important with everything going on now.”  

He supports extraordinary relief during these extraordinary times for renters and landlords via the Nevada Supreme Court’s eviction mediation program.

“Certainly the pandemic and the shutdown is unique,” he said.  

He says landlords are “trying to get the (eviction) notice process going. There’s a deadline for the CARES money. If the landlords don’t file right now, they may not even have CARES money to talk about” in mediation.

“A judiciary that moves quickly, responds quickly,” he said.

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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.