Four of five statewide appeals court races unopposed

Judge, attorney vie in only race

By: - October 11, 2022 5:57 am

Deborah Westbrook and Rhonda Forsgerg.

Of the five statewide appellate court races on the ballot in Nevada, only one remains to be decided – Dept. 1  on the Court of Appeals, where longtime Clark County chief deputy public defender Deborah Westbrook faces Clark County Family Court Judge Rhonda Forsberg for a seat being vacated by Judge Jerome Tao. 

Clark County District Judge Linda Bell is running unopposed for Seat A on the Supreme Court, currently held by Justice James Hardesty, who did not seek reelection. Supreme Court Justice Ron Parraguire is unopposed in his bid for reelection. In the Court of Appeals, Judge Bonnie Bulla and Judge Michael P. Gibbons are unopposed. 

By contrast, a seat on the Supreme Court vacated by Justice Abbi Silver drew six applicants.

Running a statewide judicial campaign is consuming, says Westbrook, when asked about the dearth of competitive races. 

“You have to be ready to travel up north and spend a significant amount of time in the rural areas and get to know all of the people throughout the state,” she says, adding it requires raising more money to get the word out. “And there’s the sense that you don’t necessarily want to run against an incumbent. And you don’t want to run against somebody who already has relationships with the community. It’s kind of an uphill battle.” 

Westbrook raised $409,989 as of June 30, and spent $129,047. 

“I think the success that I’ve had fundraising sort of speaks to the trust that the Nevada legal community has placed in me to serve on the Court of Appeals,” adding she has support from both plaintiff and defense attorneys.  

Her opponent, Forsberg, raised $4,698 and spent $825. She did not respond to requests for an interview.  

Westbrook says she’s seeking election to the Appeals Court because she’s “actually spent the last nine years exclusively handling appellate matters in the criminal realm. The role of appellate court practitioners is really to point out errors that happened in the District Court and to be able to show why those errors were harmful.”

She’s also practiced civil law for several private firms.  

Forsberg is a former family law attorney who applied in 2018 for a position on the Clark County Family Court bench, but was not chosen. The following year, Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed her to the court. She is endorsed by the governor, according to her website

Her application says she “volunteered as legal counsel for Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth” and was “asked to assist the board of directors after that organization suffered a financial scandal.” 

Sisolak’s former girlfriend, Kathleen Vermillion, who ran the nonprofit until the alleged scandal, denied any wrongdoing and was never charged. 

Forsberg wrote in her 2019 application for appointment to Family Court that one percent of her litigation in the previous five years involved appellate court. Forsberg also reported having no involvement in criminal cases, which make up more than half of the docket in appellate court, according to data compiled by the court. 

“My law practice includes divorce, custody, guardianship, adoptions, child support, premarital/postnuptial agreements, and being appointed as court appointed counsel in juvenile dependency,” her application said. 

Unlike most of the judges on the state’s appellate bench, Westbrook has never been a judge, but she notes that Supreme Court Justice Kristina Pickering went from attorney to the state’s high court. 

“She’s done an excellent job, but I think it is a little bit more of a challenge if you haven’t been a judge in the past,” Westbrook says. 

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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.