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Prosecutor, hearing master square off in District Court race

A prosecutor and Clark County hearing master are squaring off in a race for an open seat on the District Court bench.

The two candidates — former public defender Bita Yeager and deputy district attorney Jacob Villani — told the Review-Journal that they would take varying approaches to serving as judge.

Villani, who worked in a family construction business before attending law school, said he would be “tough on crime.

“I will be tough on criminals. There’s a difference between that and being fair to an accused criminal… I am victim focused.”

Yeager, who spent 18 years at the Clark County Public Defender’s office, said she supported treatment and rehabilitation for some defendants.

In 2015, Yeager was appointed as a Las Vegas justice of the peace, but lost a re-election bid the following year.

Yeager pointed to her 25 years of work as an attorney and vowed to implement “community-minded” justice.

“I’ve always worked hard to improve our justice system for the actual people in it,” Yeager said. “My focus has always been about solving problems for real people.”

Villani, who graduated from the UNLV Boyd School of Law, has been licensed in the state since 2009.

As a judge, he said he would stress responsibility.

“Whether it’s the attorney who’s missing a deadline, or it’s the criminal who’s out on the street victimizing people, we need to be held accountable for our actions,” Villani said. “The reason I’m running for judge in this department is I don’t like the results we’re getting on what I deem to be a danger to this community that I love and I grew up in.”

The pretrial diversion programs are a great idea for some people. I think too many people are being funneled into there.”

An Eighth Judicial District Court hearing master since 2017, Yeager has presided over hundreds of hearings regarding mental health and other specialty treatments for those in the justice system. She’s been licensed to practice in Nevada since 1995.

“In looking at the overall scheme of things, i think if we put the supports in place to help those defendants reintegrate that we can actually have a safer community,” Yeager said.

She added that Villani had no experience in civil work, while he emphasized that his work as a prosecutor included helping to establish a team that prosecuted cases that arose from a backlog of untested rape kits.

“We are different people,” Villani said. “We would be different judges.”

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

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