Community organizing in Nevada’s Clark County helped judicial candidates “flip the bench” to challenge cash bail and mass incarceration.
When Christy Craig started working at the public defender’s office in Clark County, Nevada, in 1998, she didn’t plan to ever run for judge. “I knew that was my gig,” Craig said. “I couldn’t have been happier to be there.” Since then, Craig has represented thousands of defendants and scored landmark wins in suits against the State on issues of correctional mental health and cash bail.
But soon Craig will be leaving the public defender’s office to become a judge on the Eighth Judicial District Court, the criminal and civil court of Clark County, which includes the Las Vegas metro area.
It was a colleague who gave her the idea to seek election last January. “I was sitting in my office and I was complaining about the bench,” Craig said. Suddenly Belinda Harris, a public defender who had already announced her candidacy for a judgeship, shouted from her office: “Well, shut up and run!”
So Craig entered the race and won on Nov. 3—alongside Harris and five other public defenders.
These seven public defenders, all women, many women of color, are now set to become judges in January. Harris is heading to the North Las Vegas Justice Court; the others were elected to the Eighth Judicial District Court, despite many being significantly outraised by their opponents.
The results will alter Clark County’s political landscape, strengthening the hand of those who want to change practices that fuel mass incarceration. Several of the public defenders described their candidacies as an effort to “balance” the courts, as judgeships in Clark County have historically been dominated by former prosecutors, as is often the case nationwide.