Las Vegas Sun

March 20, 2018

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Leavitt makes third bid for state Supreme Court

CARSON CITY -- District Judge Myron Leavitt of Las Vegas hopes the third time is a charm.

He has run twice for the Nevada Supreme Court, both times unsuccessfully against Bob Rose. This election he's going against Michael Powell, a Carson City attorney who has specialized in criminal appeals.

This is the first bid for public office for Powell, 50. Leavitt, 68, is a veteran on the campaign trail.

Leavitt served two years as a justice of the peace in Las Vegas, one term on the County Commission, one term as a Las Vegas city commissioner, one term as lieutenant governor and 14 years as a district judge. He also ran once each for governor and Congress, losing both times.

If elected, Leavitt said he wants to speed up the handling of cases on the court. Powell says the court "needs to end its internal feuding and concentrate on developing clear legal standards and precedents and predictability to the law."

The two men are seeking one of the two new seats on the expanded seven-member court. The term is for two years.

Both are graduates of the University of Nevada, Reno. Leavitt received his law degree from the University of Utah. Powell got his from the University of San Diego.

Leavitt cites his 28 years of practicing law, 14 years as a district judge and two years as justice of the peace as reasons he's qualified for the court. He's handled every type of case -- criminal, civil and family law. "I haven't limited myself to one area of the law," he said.

He decided the controversial payroll-protection suit, presided in the Bobby Berosini slander suit involving an animal act at a Strip showroom, handled the divorce case of mystery writer Mickey Spillane and most recently was the judge in the Jeremy Strohmeyer murder case.

He's been involved in more than 30 first-degree murder trials in which eight men have been sentenced to death. Two of the last six persons executed in Nevada -- Richard Moran and Carrol Cole -- were cases handled by Leavitt. As lieutenant governor, he recalls that he broke a 10-10 tie in the Senate to kill a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

"Every major law-enforcement agency in this state has endorsed me for the Supreme Court because they know my record," he says.

He's made thousands of decisions, and a recent poll of lawyers in Clark County gave him a 90 percent vote for retention, Leavitt says.

Powell quips that if Leavitt is so good as a district judge, he ought to stay there. His practice, although mostly criminal appeals recently, has included a variety of other cases including real estate law, domestic matters, landlord-tenant disputes, wills and probate and the uniform commercial code, Powell says.

He's been a defense attorney in four or five capital murder trials, and not one of his clients has received the death penalty. When a new company in Carson City tried to throw elderly citizens out of a trailer park, Powell filed a class-action lawsuit that was the first test of a mobile home law. The courts ruled the company had to help these elderly to move.

He was an appeal attorney in a high-profile drug case in Reno involving a group called "The Company," and his client, John Bonnefant, was the only one who got relief from the higher courts.

Referring to Leavitt's boasts about death-penalty cases and endorsement by law-enforcement groups, Powell says it isn't the duty of the judge to be tough on crime. "Judges should be impartial," he says. "It's up to law enforcement to be tough on crime."

The only time a judge gets involved, he said, is in sentencing. "And the punishment should fit the crime. Judges are supposed to be impartial interpreters of the law."

When a district judge is elected to the Supreme Court, Powell says, "collegiality suffers." The district judge is used to running his own show and not working with others. On the Supreme Court, there will be six others. "You do not come over and run the place. This doesn't lead to collegiality. Sometimes there is personal animosity."

Justice Miriam Shearing did not get any opposition for re-election to a six-year term. District Judge Deborah Agosti, who has served on the bench in Reno since 1985, is unopposed to succeed retiring Chief Justice Charles Springer and District Judge Nancy Becker of Las Vegas did not draw any opponent for the second new seat on the court.

When the dust settles, there will be three women on the seven-member court.