Prosecutor challenges judge in LV Justice Court race

Shanon Clowers-Sanborn hopes to unseat Judge Diana Sullivan

By: - October 22, 2020 6:00 am
Clower-Sanborn and Sullivan

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Diana Sullivan (pictured on right) is being challenged by Shanon Clowers-Sanborn.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Diana Sullivan was first elected in 2008 and is seeking a third term on the bench. She presides over a criminal docket in Justice Court. She is being challenged by prosecutor Shanon Clowers-Sanborn.  

Sullivan is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law. She began her career as a lawyer with Jones, Jones, Close and Brown, where she focused on real estate and business law.

Sullivan, who serves as president of the Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction, says her position on Nevada’s eviction mediation program was mischaracterized as opposition earlier this month by the Current, which reported on a letter Sullivan wrote on behalf of the NJLJ, objecting to proposed rules for the program. 

“…the judiciary risks completely abandoning its role as neutral arbiter of disputes and instead putting its thumb on the scales of justice to tip them against the landlords,” Sullivan wrote to the Supreme Court on September 16. 

“NJLJ simply had concerns with the program as outlined in the 9/16 letter (those being ethical and many logistical concerns),” Sullivan told the Current via email this week. 

Sullivan says the rules eventually implemented by the Supreme Court address many of NJLJ’s concerns. 

During a recent interview, Las Vegas Review-Journal politics editor Steve Sebelius asked Clowers-Sanborn and Sullivan how they handle difficult people. 

Clowers-Sanborn said defense attorneys pose difficulty for her. She says learning that she can’t deliver what a party wants allows her to end the discussion.

Sullivan said the attorneys she deals with are not difficult. 

“What’s difficult is when people represent themselves,” Sullivan told Sebelius. 

Sullivan told the Current about one-quarter of her caseload “involves people who represent themselves on minor misdemeanors.” 

“It’s sometimes difficult to handle cases in which people represent themselves because usually they are unfamiliar with court procedures so they tend to look to the judge for guidance — and of course we cannot give them legal guidance or advice,” she wrote in an email. Other defendants “have some mental health issues and without an attorney representing them to be the buffer or relayer of that information — the judge has to try to try to determine, with very little or no information, if the party is simply being disrespectful to the court, or if there are some mental health issue going on that would better explain their inappropriate courtroom behavior. This is particularly true in criminal dockets.”

“We also have a few people who adamantly invoke their right to represent themselves on serious felony charges, and those cases are also challenging because again, most of them do not have the tools, resources, or knowledge to adequately represent themselves in a serious criminal case,” Sullivan says.   

Sullivan has raised $111,785 and had $28,097 remaining as of October.

Clowers-Sanborn is a graduate of Boyd School of Law at UNLV. She clerked for Judge Joseph Bonaventure before joining the Clark County District Attorney, where she is currently chief deputy district attorney.

Her website says 15 years as a prosecutor have allowed her to experience “the satisfaction of ensuring convictions for victims against violent offenders, but I have also felt the incredible gratification of giving opportunities of redemption to offenders and seeing them succeed.”   

Clowers-Sanborn is perhaps best known for prosecuting Gloria Lee, the owner of the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique, who was convicted of arson, insurance fraud and cruelty to animals for her attempt to burn down the business with more than two dozen puppies inside. Video of the crime implicated Lee.

Would her experience as a district attorney and marriage to a cop lend to a pro-police/prosecutor bias? 

“I think about it all the time,” she said. “I think in some ways I would hold my office and officers to a higher standard. I’m pretty confident I can sit on the bench and be unbiased.”

But in a recent social media post, Clowers-Sanborn writes “I am hoping you can check my website and verify my loyalty to LE (law enforcement…”

The Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct says judges “should aspire at all times to conduct that ensures the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and competence.”

“My default position as a Justice of the Peace would be to fulfill the requirements of the job in a non-bias (sic), fair, and impartial way – which not only ensures the rights of all parties are protected, but that this community is kept safe too,” she said when asked to comment on the social media post. “Supporting law enforcement does not equate to ignoring the responsibilities of a judge and dismissing the laws, the Constitution, or common sense; nor, does it mean I condone bad police.   I am loyal to the honorable and reputable men and women of this community and the United States who make sacrifices for the good of our country and I stand by that.”

Clowers-Sanborn says there’s a lack of consistency among judges on the Clark County bench.

“As a prosecutor, you want to know where they (judges)  are coming from — that they’re not coming out of left field, decision-wise. That takes away from the ability to negotiate cases.” 

Clowers-Sanborn says she supports the grand jury system, which is often criticized for being one-sided.   

“One of the problems with the justice system is it’s so slow. It does not move fast enough. If you have a defendant who needs drug treatment, they sit in custody waiting. For me it’s more of a fast tracking,” she says of grand juries versus preliminary hearings. She says the administration of justice is not compromised via fast tracking, but she admits evidence supporting the defendant may not have been uncovered by the time a grand jury convenes.  

“Sometimes the problem is we are a week and half away from the crime” and exculpatory evidence has yet to be discovered.    

Clowers-Sanborn says she trusts prosecutors to present exculpatory evidence in grand jury proceedings “when it’s available.”

“If I’m afraid of exculpatory evidence I shouldn’t be prosecuting the case,” she says. “No one should be.”

Clowers-Sanborn has raised $15,804 and had $4,660 on hand as of October.

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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.