A race for an open seat on the Nevada Supreme Court has intensified as the general election nears.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has slowed fundraising, District Court Judge Douglas Herndon had raised about three times as much as his opponent, two-term Nevada Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo.
As of July, Herndon had collected about $436,000 for his campaign, while Fumo raised $145,000.
A Review-Journal debate between the two heated up as they discussed the pardon of a man who spent 21 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. Herndon worked as a prosecutor on the 1992 trial for Fred Steese.
Although Herndon expressed remorse about the case, Fumo criticized Herndon for not apologizing directly to Steese.
“To this day, he’s never apologized to Fred Steese for what he did to him,” Fumo said. “To say you’re remorseful for what you did is a fallacy. It’s a complete fallacy to say, ‘I feel bad. You had plenty of opportunities to go there and change your story from hiding evidence to do the right thing, and you chose not to.”
Herndon argued no misconduct was found in the Steese case, which has been featured in national publications, including Vanity Fair and the website ProPublica. Herndon said he joined the case a week before the trial started.
“I took responsibility as soon as that gentleman’s conviction was overturned,” he said. “I still think, from a leadership standpoint, you take responsibility when something goes awry… Mr. Fumo’s comments are indicative of how reckless and dangerous he would be as a Supreme Court justice because it’s obvious he hasn’t done any due diligence to learn about that case other than reading a magazine article.”
Fumo later pointed out that Steese’s record has since been sealed, calling Herndon’s statement “completely disingenuous.”
The two are vying to fill the seat being vacated by Justice Mark Gibbons.
Herndon tried to steer the campaign to the courtroom, saying he had tried and overseen more cases and trials.
“He’s never even appeared before the Nevada Supreme Court, a body that he wishes to be elected to right now,” Herndon said. “I think I have a great (many) more qualifications.”
While promising “equal justice under the law” if elected, Fumo was critical that Herndon had “only done government work,” as a Clark County prosecutor and judge.
Herndon, who received an 85 percent retention rating in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s 2019 Judicial Performance Evaluation, was first appointed to the lower court bench in 2005. He served as the chief judge of the District Court’s criminal division from 2010 to 2017, leading a team of four judges who handle the most serious criminal cases in Clark County.
Before taking the bench, Herndon was a prosecutor for 14 years in the Clark County district attorney’s office.
Fumo has practiced criminal and civil law in Nevada since 1996, and Herndon was licensed in the state in 1991.
First elected to the Nevada Legislature in 2016, Fumo has practiced criminal and civil law in Nevada since 1996. He was appointed by Clark County commissioners to serve as a hearing master for a police fatality fact-finding review board. He is also an adjunct professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, and a partner in the boutique law firm Pitaro & Fumo.
During a three-way race in the June primary, Herndon received about 45 percent of the vote, while Fumo collected nearly 36 percent of the vote.
Justices earn about $170,000 a year.