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Prominent lawyer challenges appointed judge in NLV

A veteran criminal defense attorney is challenging a longtime judge for North Las Vegas Municipal Court Department 1 in the upcoming primary.

The municipal court, which currently presides over the city’s diversionary court programs, was created last year. The North Las Vegas City Council appointed Judge Chris Lee to oversee the department, but a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union has forced the city to hold an election for the position.

Prominent Las Vegas attorney Jonathan MacArthur is now challenging Lee for the position.

Jonathan MacArthur

MacArthur, 49, grew up in Las Vegas and served in the U.S. Army before he attended Washington and Lee University School of Law, where he graduated in 1999. He joined the Clark County public defender’s office in 2000 and opened his own private law firm the following year.

MacArthur said he believes voters should be aware of judge’s political leanings.

“I want people to know that I am a progressive, and I believe that fundamental rights as we understand them should be protected and expanded, not contracted,” he said.

In the summer of 2020, MacArthur made headlines when his arrest during a Black Lives Matter demonstration was captured on video by a Review-Journal reporter.

MacArthur, whose father was a police officer, said his interactions with police will make him a more empathetic judge.

“I think that if a judge is going to create an atmosphere where there is increased police accountability, it has to come from someone who understands what police experience and what communities of color experience at the hands of police,” he said.

MacArthur has previously lost elections for North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Department 3 in 2008 and Department 1 in 2012. He has been at the center of other controversies, which MacArthur said coincided with his prior bids for office.

In 2007, he lost his job as a substitute judge in the North Las Vegas Justice Court after then-District Attorney David Roger complained about remarks he had previously made about prosecutors on his Myspace page. In August 2012, the Nevada Supreme Court denied MacArthur’s bid to overturn a judge’s order holding him in contempt for refusing to defend a client at a child abuse trial.

“Integrity comes first and foremost to me,” MacArthur recently told the Review-Journal. “And I have made many decisions while advocating for my clients, that while ethical, made me unpopular or easy to attack.”

Chris Lee

Lee, 47, was fist elected to the bench in 2009 and served as judge in the North Las Vegas Justice Court Department 3 for 12 years. He lost reelection in 2020 to current Judge Belinda Harris.

North Las Vegas created the Community Approach to Rehabilitation and Engagement Court program last year for the municipal court as part of the city’s new approach to low-level crime. Lee said the North Las Vegas City Council approached him to oversee the program.

The lawsuit from the ACLU accused the city of appointing Lee to a term that extended beyond what is allowed by the city charter, which requires vacant positions filled by appointments to go to voters in the first election following the appointment.

Lee graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1999, and worked as a prosecutor in the Clark County district attorney’s office for seven years starting in 2000. He also served as Southern Nevada’s deputy secretary of state for two years.

“I feel like I really dedicated my entire career to public service,” he said.

Lee is an officer in the United States Air Force Reserve and helped establish the first veteran’s treatment court in North Las Vegas, he said. Lee said he believes that diversionary programs are important to help treat the underlying causes of crime and prevent recidivism.

“It’s not always just about punishment for the sake of punishment,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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