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October 16, 2018

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The show goes on at Municipal Court

Las Vegas Municipal Court has had its share of judges who have led interesting celebrity lives.

The late Seymore Brown, the last nonattorney city judge, was an actor who appeared on the 1980s TV series "Vega$" and in B movies, including the 1990 action-adventure "Snake Eater 2."

Former Municipal Judge Valorie Vega, now a District Court judge, put herself through college in part by skating in the Roller Derby for the Los Angeles Thunderbirds.

Now comes Dayvid Figler, a 35-year-old poet who once portrayed rock legend Jim Morrison on a Las Vegas stage.

The Las Vegas City Council, by unanimous vote Wednesday, appointed Figler to be an interim judge, filling the unexpired term of Jessie Walsh, who was elected in November to District Court.

Figler is a deputy public defender who in recent years has defended high-profile accused killers.

As a condition of the appointment, Figler has agreed to not run for the permanent post this spring so that all of the candidates will be on even footing for the permanent job. The position pays about $95,600 a year.

"I am taking over stewardship of the court, and it will be three to six months dedicated to being a judge, not a politician out raising funds and campaigning," said Figler, who will take a leave of absence from the public defender's office to take the bench next week.

If a candidate for the permanent post garners more than 50 percent of the vote in March, Figler's term will be for only a couple of months. If there is a need for a runoff between the two highest vote-getters from the primary, Figler will serve about half a year as judge.

Figler's penchant for acting and writing poetry gives him a dimension that separates him from the stereotypical lawyer. In 1998, he starred as Morrison in the Nevada Arts Council's one-man show, "Hello, I Love You (Where You Folks From?)" at the Gourmet Cafe in downtown Las Vegas.

Figler's role mimicked the late flashy front-man for the Doors, placing him in modern-day Las Vegas. The 50-minute play explored the quest for fame by Las Vegas impersonators. Figler is a longtime local coffeehouse poet who is noted for writing amusing verse about pop culture, fame and celebrity.

Figler's day job for the last five years, however, has been a serious one -- defending accused murderers. In December, the Nevada Supreme Court threw out the death sentence for one of his clients, convicted murderer Donte Johnson. Johnson faces a new sentencing hearing, but Figler cannot take cases while he is a judge, so unless the case is put off for some time, he won't be at Johnson's side.

Johnson had been sentenced to death for the 1998 execution-style murders of four men, ages 19 to 20, in Las Vegas. Two accomplices, Sikia Smith and Terrell Young, were convicted of murder and received life sentences in the case.

"This (Municipal Court) will be a lot different for me because many (defendants) will be experiencing the justice system for the first time," Figler said. "I will be sensitive to their issues and unencumbered by any agenda. Everyone will get a fair shake, but no special treatment."

Born in Chicago, Figler moved with his family to Las Vegas in 1971. He graduated from Valley High School, earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Arizona and earned his law degree from McGeorge School of Law, where he was student body president.

Figler has long been a community activist. In 2000, as part of a Las Vegas outdoor light pole art display, he erected a sign with the highly critical message on the lack of local preservation of historic sites: "Las Vegas: Steadily erasing history since ... (Date Unknown.)."

Figler also has written commentaries for the "All Things Considered" segment of National Public Radio on subjects ranging from the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear dump to springtime in Las Vegas.

In May last year, as a private citizen, Figler argued at a public meeting against the Stratosphere's proposed thrill ride that eventually was voted down by the council.

"I grew up here and I've always had a concern for my community," Figler said. "I want to make Las Vegas a better, livable place."

There is no formal screening process for Municipal Court appointments. Candidates need only be lawyers and residents of Las Vegas. As a result, informal meetings with council members traditionally have produced judge appointees.

During Wednesday's action, Councilwoman Lynette Boggs McDonald said she would present a proposal for future judge selections that would require the city to appoint a review panel. She said a screening process is necessary given the number of replacements in recent years.

Walsh had been appointed in 1999 to replace Municipal Judge Ron Parraguirre after he was appointed by the governor to be a District Court judge. Also that year, Michelle Leavitt Fitzpatrick was appointed to the Municipal Court to replace Vega when she moved up to District Court. In 2000, Brown, the court's chief judge, died and elder-rights attorney Betsy Kolkoski was appointed to replace him.

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