When voters elect a municipal court judge, they aren’t electing a partisan politician they expect to propose policy along ideological or party lines. The role of a municipal court judge is to adjudicate misdemeanors and code violations for cases inside a city.
These cases range from driving under the influence or domestic violence cases to traffic tickets. So in essence, voters are appointing someone whose demeanor and experience will work for the city and its citizens—someone who can judge when it is better to jail someone versus ordering that person to rehabilitation, for instance.
Shelly O’Neill and Charles Woodman are competing for the Department 2 seat for the Reno Municipal Court.
Woodman is a self-employed attorney. He’s been called to serve occasionally as a pro tem judge in the Reno Municipal Court throughout his career. In 2005, he was appointed to serve as a special court master.
“I’ve had people joke with me that they’ve known judges that have been elected or appointed, served for a number of years and retired without hearing as many cases as I have, and I’ve never been an official judge,” Woodman said of his experience.
He has a list of over 400 supporters on his website and a video endorsement from Mayor Hillary Schieve.
During his door-to-door campaigning, he learned of local nonprofit Awaken, which provides services for women who have been victims of sex trafficking. This inspired Woodman to propose establishing a “specialty johns’ court” specific to men who are driving the sex trade in the Reno. Creating a new court would require all four municipal court judges to agree before coordinating with the administration of the office of the courts in Carson City.
O’Neill wouldn’t prioritize this kind of specialty court.
“I think that the controlled substances courts that we already have get into that and deal with that,” said O’Neill. “We have a lot of people who have been subjected to various forms of abuse and control because of their addiction, and if you can get in and break that cycle you can stop that human traffic by breaking their addiction.”
She’d rather see a specialty court focused on veterans and modeled after the district Veteran’s Specialty Court.
“The courts are now waking up to the fact that we have a whole segment of society that has been mistreated and not recognized for their abilities and their problems,” she said.
O’Neill was recognized as one of the first 100 women to be admitted to the State Bar of Nevada. She is an experienced trial lawyer in the city, has worked for 13 years in the Public Defender’s office and has also acted as pro tem judge in Reno Municipal Court, among other accolades.
She’s running for judge because she said she wants to put a foot in the revolving door of people going in and out of jail all the time.
“It’s a waste of human resources and taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Both candidates are reaching out to various communities within the city to gain support. All of O’Neill’s campaign materials are printed in English and Spanish. Woodman speaks fluent Spanish, a skill that he believes will give him a nuanced advantage in listening to cases involving Latinos.