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RGJ 2022 voter guide: Who is running for Nevada Court of Appeals? – Reno Gazette Journal

The Nevada Court of Appeals has a unique structure in which all of its cases — approximately 700 each year — are assigned by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The three-judge appellate court resolves cases by unpublished order and published opinion, which become part of Nevada’s case law and can be cited and relied on by lower courts. Appellate judges serve six-year terms.
All three judges on the Court of Appeals are up for reelection this year, but Nevada voters will decide only one of the races, as both Chief Judge Michael P. Gibbons and Judge Bonnie Bulla are running unchallenged. Nevada’s third appellate judge, Jerome Tao, is not seeking reelection. The race will be decided in the November general election.
In addition, two Nevada Supreme Court justices are also up for reelection, but voters won’t see those races on the primary or general election ballots. 
Related:Who are the candidates for Sparks Municipal judge Dept. 1?
Supreme Court Justice Ron Parraguirre did not draw any challengers in his bid to retain his seat, while Linda Bell, a Clark County District Court judge, is running unchallenged to fill a seat on the bench that will be vacated at the end of the year after Chief Justice James Hardesty retires.
Explore the rest of this article to learn more about each candidate on the ballot.
In April 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed Forsberg, 59, to Dept. G of the Clark County Family Court bench. She retained her seat in the 2020 general election, defeating her opponent by 39 percentage points. Before she took the bench in 2019, Forsberg ran a family law practice and served as a pro-tem hearing master.
Years lived in Nevada: 21 years
Years on the bench: Three years
Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in economics, University of Utah; J.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I also attended the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.
Previous office/judgeships held: N/A
Previous office/judgeships sought: N/A
Key endorsements: Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters of Nevada; United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Local 1977; Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers
Social media: N/A
Campaign website: Forsberg4judge.com
What makes you the best candidate for this judgeship?
I am the only candidate in this race with judicial experience. I have a large base of knowledge. As a family court judge, I have handled cases that have involved every kind of legal issue. A divorce action can have criminal issues, personal injuries, bankruptcy, wills, trusts, business entities and tax issues. There is no area of law that deals with all aspects of law as does family court matters. In addition, for 20 years, prior to going to law school, I worked in the insurance industry. I started as a customer service representative and eventually became a vice president of a Leavitt Insurance Agency.
My diverse knowledge will be an asset on the Nevada Court of Appeals. It is valuable to have a Court of Appeals Judge that has life and business ownership experience and not just legal experience.
When judges are sworn in to their positions, they pledge under oath to uphold the law and the U.S. Constitution. Do you view the Constitution as a living document?
Yes. The U.S. Constitution may be amended. Article V of the Constitution provides two ways to propose amendments to the document. Amendments may be proposed either by the Congress, through a joint resolution passed by a two-thirds vote, or by a convention called by Congress in response to applications from two-thirds of the state legislatures.
Have any of your cases been reversed by a higher court? Please elaborate on each reversal, if any.
Out of 23 appeals, there has been four reversals.
Westbrook, 45, is a chief deputy public defender in the appellate division of the Clark County Public Defender’s office. She previously practiced labor and employment law, and in 2003, after completing law school in Seattle, Westbrook also served as a clerk for Judge Eric T. Washington in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. 
Years lived in Nevada: In August, I will have lived here for 18 years.
Years actively practicing law: 19
Education: I attended public schools in Washington State and graduated as valedictorian of Mercer Island High School in 1994. In 1998, I obtained my Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Washington in Seattle. I graduated with honors, magna cum laude, and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa National Honors Society. In 2002, I graduated from the University of Washington School of Law with honors, and in the top 10 percent of my class. I wrote and edited for the Washington Law Review from 2001-2002.
Previous office/judgeships held: None
Previous office/judgeships sought: None
Key endorsements: I am honored to have received nearly 300 endorsements from Nevada citizens, including leaders in law enforcement, business, labor, government, and practitioners of civil, criminal and family law.
The following is a list of major endorsements, but the full list can be found here
Social media: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
Campaign website: deborahwestbrook.com
How would you apply your experience practicing appellate law to this judgeship?
For almost nine years, I have served the community as an appellate attorney in the Clark County Public Defender’s Office. I also spent a year clerking for Judge Eric T. Washington on the D.C. Court of Appeals, in Washington, D.C. With nearly a decade of appellate experience, I am the only candidate for Court of Appeals Department 1 who is ready to hit the ground running on day one of my term, deciding the cases that will come before the Court.
In 2021, 61% of all Court of Appeals cases were criminal matters, and I have handled more than 50 criminal appellate matters during my time at the Clark County Public Defender’s Office. Likewise, 29% of all Court of Appeals cases were civil appeals, and I spent the better part of a decade as a civil litigator handling the types of contract and tort cases that regularly come before the Court of Appeals. By contrast, only 3% of all Court of Appeals cases involve family law matters.
The Court of Appeals is an error correction court, and the bulk of the cases that are assigned to the Court of Appeals can be decided under existing law and precedent. Most Court of Appeals cases are decided within six months of the time that they are assigned to the Court, and my experience as an appellate litigator will facilitate the timely resolution of the cases that I receive. Because I have reviewed so many appellate records, I am able to quickly identify prejudicial legal errors that require the reversal of a district court decision, as distinguished from harmless errors that do not require reversal.
I am well-versed in the Nevada Rules of Appellate Procedure, which govern appellate practice in the Court of Appeals, and am currently a member of the Supreme Court Commission that is revising those rules. For the past five years, I have coordinated a training program for attorneys at the Clark County Public Defender’s Office analyzing every published criminal decision coming out of Nevada’s appellate courts. I also edit a monthly column in the Nevada Lawyer magazine summarizing all published decisions of Nevada’s appellate courts, including civil, criminal, and family law cases.
As a result, I am familiar with the most recent legal precedent and will be able to apply those new rules of law to the cases that come before me.
When judges are sworn in to their positions, they pledge under oath to uphold the law and the U.S. Constitution. Do you view the Constitution as a living document?
As the late Justice Antonin Scalia once said, “I do not think the Constitution, or any text should be interpreted either strictly or sloppily; it should be interpreted reasonably.” Like Justice Scalia, I believe for both constitutional and statutory interpretation that you start with the text and that you give the text the meaning it had when it was adopted.
Interpreting the United States Constitution and its applicability to specific cases is ultimately the responsibility of the United States Supreme Court. Throughout its history, the Supreme Court has rendered thousands of decisions, and while some of those decisions have arguably treated the Constitution as a living document, in other decisions, the Court has taken a more constrained view of that text. As a judge on the Nevada Court of Appeals, I will be bound to uphold and apply the Constitution as it has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.
Under what circumstances would you recuse yourself from a case?
Impartiality is a core principle of the judiciary. As a judge, I will be guided by the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 2.11, which governs disqualifications. While I cannot opine as to every circumstance that would require recusal, I can say that I would recuse from any cases in which my husband, a Chief Deputy Public Defender, appears personally as counsel of record.
I would also recuse from cases where the Clark County Defenders Union (CCDU) is named as a party, given my membership on the CCDU Board of Directors, my husband’s membership on the CCDU Board of Directors, and our involvement in founding the organization.
Rio Lacanlale is the Las Vegas correspondent for the Reno Gazette Journal and the USA Today Network. Contact her at rlacanlale@gannett.com or on Twitter @riolacanlale. Support local journalism by subscribing to the RGJ today.

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