From left: Amy Wilson, Max Berkley, Dena Rinetti
A prosecutor, public defender and private attorney are vying to become Las Vegas Justice of the Peace in Department 7, a seat opened up by the pending retirement of Justice Karen Bennet Haron.
Max Berkley is a native Las Vegan and a graduate of UNLV’s Boyd Law School. He has been a Clark County public defender for ten years, but says he’d be able “switch to being a trier of fact” if elected to Justice Court.
“I understand I wouldn’t be able to advocate anymore,” he said during an interview. “But I think I can be unbiased and neutral. And that’s one of the reasons I decided to run for this job.”
Berkley’s campaign website features an endorsement from his mother, former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, who says her son is a “listener” and has “quintessential judicial temperament.”
Berkley says he’d like to see options increased in Justice Court for defendants who may benefit from drug court but are often denied treatment until their case is adjudicated in District Court.
“There is such a Justice Court drug court, but it is not utilized as frequently as I think it could be,” he says, adding that District Court has “a bunch of different inpatient treatment facilities, and outpatient treatment.”
“I’d like to see mental health services utilized as well, and I don’t think we need to wait until someone pleads to the serious charge before we utilize mental health as well as drug court.”
Berkley is leading the fundraising race among candidates for Department 7 with $137,000 in contributions and about $91,000 in the bank for the first reporting period.
He says contributions from litigants or attorneys who appear before him would not affect his judgment.
“I’m going to follow the law and do what’s right and certainly contributions are not going to influence my decisions at all,” he says.
Berkley says the ability to raise money for a campaign is not indicative of a candidate’s qualifications, citing “plenty of examples, even a couple years ago, of candidates who didn’t raise very much who I think have done very well on the bench.”
Berkley says he has good relationships with prosecutors and defense colleagues and is “motivated to stay in public service.”
Prosecutor Dena Rinetti is making another run for the bench after losing her 2020 race for District Court. The previous year she was one of 16 attorneys who applied for an appointment to a seat in District Court.
Rinetti, who did not respond to the Current’s requests for an interview, has raised no money.
Attorney Amy Wilson obtained her law degree from Brigham Young University. She was admitted to the California bar in 1998, and has also practiced in Arizona, and Nevada.
She served as a prosecutor in Orange County and San Mateo County, and later switched to criminal defense as a member of the San Mateo private defender panel, the equivalent of the public defender.
“Most of my cases were court appointed but I could also take private retained cases,” she says,
She later became a prosecutor in Arizona’s Maricopa County District Attorney’s office, where she handled probation violations, and served as a pro tem judge in Justice Court.
Wilson has been licensed to practice law in Nevada since 2014 and has practiced civil law, working her first year for a firm that “did solely evictions for large property management companies.” Since 2015 she’s practiced primarily in personal injury litigation.
“I have a varied background,” she says, including representing criminal defendants in Justice Court. “I’ve done a couple of DUIS, traffic tickets, but we’re mostly a PI firm.”
She also served as a pro tem judge regularly in Justice Court from 2020 until she filed to run for the seat in Department 7. She says the requirement for individualized bail hearings resulting from the Valdez-Jimenez vs. Eighth Judicial District Court case is new for her.
“In order to set bail, the state has the burden of proving that there’s no less restrictive means to ensure that the defendant will appear for subsequent hearings,” she says of the ruling, adding the judge is called on to consider determining factors such as employment, ties to the community, the strength of the evidence, reputation, and prior criminal record.
Wilson reports raising $7,600 in the first filing period that ended in March, and about $6,500 remaining.
“I have more since then,” she says. “I just got into the race on the last day of filing and had not been fundraising before that.”
“I believe voters should select a judge based upon our qualifications and not how much money they can raise,” she says. “But, no, I don’t anticipate outraising my opponents. I’m not going to outraise Berkley. I’m confident he’s a nice guy. We are very cordial. But I have significantly more experience.”
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