Women of Color in the Courtroom


As the 2020 Election Cycle approaches, The Urban Voice, as part of its “One Voice. One Vote.” voter engagement campaign, will provide a platform for candidates to express how they will positively impact the community when elected to office.  Often overlooked, the judiciary is a branch of government that has a tremendous impact on communities of color, both black and brown.  As such, our campaign aims to explore the importance of electing women of color to the bench.

 

Clark County Chief Deputy Public Defender Dedree Butler, Esq., quips, “Representation matters. As a woman of color, I did not grow up seeing attorneys and judges who look like me, from similar backgrounds. Those positions seemed unattainable. Being ‘locked out’ of certain fields and careers leads to fear and injustice. By diversifying the bench, particularly here in Clark County, Nevada, we will focus on inclusion and understanding residents from different backgrounds. This will surely lead to more open conversations and just decisions.”

 

"Unfortunately, the need for cultural competency has not been acknowledged by our justice system. Therefore, black and brown people are stopped, arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated or monitored (i.e. house arrest, probation) at far higher rates (i.e. five times) than their white counterparts,” laments Clark County, Justice of the Peace Karen P. Bennett-Haron.

 

Bennett-Haron continues, “This practice has become so entrenched in justice's daily operation that judges, prosecutors and defense practitioners rarely challenge or question the disparity. To combat this critical injustice, we must insist upon having culturally competent representation in every facet of the justice system. The young women highlighted in this article are shining examples of what culturally competent representation looks and most importantly, sounds like."

 

Chief Deputy Public Defender Belinda T. Harris, Esq., “On a daily basis, I defend the constitution and ensure that the rights of all individuals are protected.  I provide zealous advocacy to those who would otherwise be unable to afford a legal defense.  As a Chief Deputy Public Defender, I have been making changes from the bottom to the top.   I am running for North Las Vegas Justice Court so that I can make systematic changes from the top to the bottom and better serve our community.”   

 

You may ask yourself, “How does the community benefit from having a culturally diverse judiciary?”  State of Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford, Esq. offers, “In a word, perspective.  One of the most important reasons for the presence of people of color in the courtroom is that it brings perspective to the matter.  From analyzing issues that arise in a case to deciding how to address/decide those issues, the presence of people of color in the courtroom afford the opportunity for a more complete and thorough consideration because of the different perspectives they provide.” 

 

Chief Deputy Public Defender Jasmin Spells, Esq. offers, “I understand the plight of the disenfranchised and underserved from my own personal experiences. I have also seen how showing kindness or providing access to solution-based programming can assist an individual in turning their life around. I am compassionate, yet firm. As a judge, I would have more ability to impact community and educational outreach.”

 

Assistant Majority Leader Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (District 1) extols, “As a former corrections officer and mother of bi-racial children, I know firsthand the benefits of developing a culturally diverse judicial bench.  I believe diversity brings about better understanding and appreciation for the diverse groups of people coming before them.  Equally important is having judges, no matter their background, receive continuing education and training to better recognize and understand their own implicit biases.”

 

Chief Deputy Special Public Defender Monica Trujillo, Esq., states, “Everyone wants to be understood, cared for and, at the very least, believe that someone is listening to them. My experience has prepared me to be a judge because first and foremost, I am a trial attorney who is qualified to defend clients charged with the most serious offenses in our criminal justice system and who at times are facing the death penalty. I understand all aspects of our system, can continue to learn and I am an effective communicator who is fair.”

 

In the DECEMBER 2019 EDITION of The Urban Voice, we will publish in-depth interviews with each of the following attorneys who desire to serve our community on the judicial bench.   According to one colleague, Senior  Management Analyst, Wences Perez of the Clark County Public Defender’s office, “These women not only understand our community, but fight daily for those in the community who have been disenfranchised or who have fallen victims to the judicial system’s criminalization of poverty. For far too long, a large portion of our community has gone underrepresented on our benches, which is a fundamental problem. How can a judge ensure fair application of the law with no understanding of the challenges the defendants face?”  

 

Monica Trujillo, Esq.

Chief Deputy Special Public Defender

Clark County Special Public Defender’s Office

Desires to serve in the Eighth Judicial District Court

 

I am passionate about helping people who are often powerless by circumstance. In my current position, I help to build trust in the system that often fails so many. I strive to give a voice to people who often have no voice. I want to continue to instill trust in the system on a larger scale and look forward to making a greater impact in Clark County.”

 

Jasmin Spells, Esq.

Chief Deputy Public Defender

Clark County Public Defender’s Office

Desires to serve in the Eighth Judicial District Court

 

“I am a client advocate and a trial lawyer for people charged with misdemeanor and serious felony crimes who cannot afford to hire an attorney. As a public defender I wear many hats. Many of my clients are broken. They are suffering from poverty, drug addiction, untreated mental illness, broken families, adverse effects from their childhood and/or adverse effects from serving our country. Oftentimes, I am also triaging other areas of my client’s lives to help them move forward and be productive citizens.”

 

Dedree Butler, Esq.

Chief Deputy Public Defender

Team Chief Domestic Violence Unit

Clark County Public Defender’s Office

Desires to serve in the Eighth Judicial District Court – Family Division

“I am running for Family Court Judge because there is nothing more important than family. I can relate to people and the complicated issues addressed in family court.  I understand that family court judges work hard and make difficult decisions impacting families and believe that my personal and work experiences have prepared me to be a Family Court Judge. Oftentimes, people want to know that their voice is being heard and considered while trying to navigate through a scary court process. I am willing to listen and work hard to ensure fairness.“

 

Belinda T. Harris, Esq.

Chief Deputy Public Defender

Clark County Public Defender’s Office

Desires to serve in North Las Vegas Justice Court, Department 3

 

“I am proud to call North Las Vegas my hometown, I was born and raised here.  I am dedicated and devoted to maintaining integrity and fairness in the North Las Vegas Justice Courts.  To whom much is given, much is expected, and I am eager to continue to serve the community that helped mold me into the person I am today.  The people of North Las Vegas can count on me because I am bold, tough, and honest.  Always have been and always will be.”

 

For his part Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly (District D) offers that he is, “So excited to see a new generation of community and civic minded women, headed for the bench.”  As a community, let’s get engaged and ensure the commissioner’s vision comes to fruition.

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02 Nov 2019


By Joseph C. Abraham
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