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Judicial candidates for Department 28 debate incumbent’s performance

Ron Israel is hoping to retain his seat on the Clark County District Court bench in a judicial primary against attorneys Jim Cavanaugh and Alexandra McLeod.

Hoping to keep his seat on the bench, District Judge Ron Israel questioned the fairness of a Las Vegas Review-Journal survey that gave him one of the lowest retention scores in Clark County.

“It’s not a survey, it’s a popularity poll conducted by the Review-Journal,” Israel said during a debate against one of his opponents, attorney Jim Cavanaugh, hosted by the newspaper. “In fact, after almost six weeks, they didn’t even have enough people responding, so they had to extend the time another month.”

Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said the newspaper stands by the results of its survey, and that part of Israel’s criticism of the project is completely inaccurate.

“To be clear, the Review-Journal didn’t conduct this survey,” Cook said. “The survey was conducted by expert researchers at UNLV who believe they had more than enough participation from Southern Nevada attorneys to yield scientifically valid results. The Review-Journal has produced ‘Judging the Judges’ for decades as a public service to voters, who have found it especially valuable in identifying the best and the worst judges on the bench.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the judicial debate was conducted as a videoconference.

Only 46 percent of lawyers surveyed last year said they thought Israel should keep his seat. Cavanaugh pointed to that score, along with the lowest summary score in Clark County District Court for the individual questions regarding performance, as his motivation for trying to unseat Israel in Department 28.

“I think Judge Israel is a good man, but I’m primarily running because I believe he has not (done a good job), sadly,” Cavanaugh said. “When you have over half of the bar rating you as nonretainable and having the lowest summary score, that means something.”

A third candidate for the position, attorney Alexandra McLeod, declined an invitation to participate.

Israel also suggested that those who gave him a low rating may simply have been attorneys who did not agree with his decisions, pointing out that the Nevada Supreme Court has not overturned one of his decisions in a personal injury case in his 10 years on the bench.

The top two finishers in the June primary will advance to November’s general election. But if the first-place finisher gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, that candidate will win the election.

It was the fifth debate hosted by the Review Journal, and the first to be done via videoconference. While the newspaper had scheduled 23 events for more than 70 candidates in judicial primary races for the Supreme Court, District Court and Family Court, further judicial debates have been postponed indefinitely in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cavanaugh touted his 20 years of practice in Las Vegas and seven years in California, primarily as a commercial litigator.

“I think I’ve got a reputation among the people I’ve worked with to be someone who’s fair and forthright,” he said.

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, debate moderator Victor Joecks asked whether judges should start releasing nonviolent inmates.

“I would encourage the furtherance of that process,” Israel said, noting that he would favor defendants who are “low risk” to reoffend.

Cavanaugh agreed.

“Especially in these times, taking away somebody’s liberty and exposing them to perhaps life-threatening health conditions just doesn’t seem fair or appropriate at this time,” he said.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.