NV 8 Dept 29 2020

Many of our panelists leaned toward Judge Jones in this race, agreeing that he is “great” and “comes prepared” in the civil case arena but that reviews are “mixed” on his work on criminal cases. One panelist who spoke well of Jones on civil cases said he is “misplaced” as a criminal court judge, though, and noted that Lopez-Negrete is “bright” and could make “a great judge.” Another panelist said Lopez-Negrete is “the clear choice” with “extensive trial experience” who “served on the Clark County public defenders’ sexual assault team for years, which is the toughest job a lawyer can have.” The same panelist noted that he is bilingual and said he “will be an excellent judge.”

Jones was elected to the bench in 2016. He did not complete our questionnaire. Prior to his election, he was an appointed arbitrator, mediator and short trial judge for the Eighth Judicial District Court and a private attorney whose primary focus was in complex civil litigation. Jones has presided over dozens of criminal and civil trials in his over three years on the bench. His rulings have been regularly affirmed by the Nevada Court of Appeals and the Nevada Supreme Court. Our law school research team reviewed some of these cases, but none were particularly significant for the purposes of voter information. Based on our research, Jones has never been reversed for abuse of discretion, has never been sanctioned by a court for improper behavior and has no history of ethics violations. 

According to an Oct. 23 Las Vegas Review Journal article, Jones misrepresented the amount and nature of the negative comments he received in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s 2019 Judicial Performance Evaluation — and suggested that his opponent, Lopez-Negrete, was the one who was behind negative comments. In an interview with the Mesquite to Moapa Democrats club, Jones stated, “The one and only negative comment I had was basically about my sentencing of sex offenders, so figured it was probably my opponent.” Jones later retracted his statement and claimed he “made a mistake in the source”. The Las Vegas Review Journal subsequently revealed that there were no comments in the Jones survey regarding sex crimes, but that three lawywers had responded to the survey stating, “I recommend that Judge Jones be retained, however, he is at times much too lenient in his criminal sentencing”, “needs to be tougher on crime”, and “his conduct was deplorable in a criminal sentencing.” The newspaper also stated that Jones received “more favorable comments than negative...and an 85 percent retention score from attorneys.” Lopez-Negrete responded to Jones’ statements by calling them “untrue” and “offensive” and stating, “It’s really disappointing that he would stoop to the level of fabricating a flat-out lie to try to make himself look good and in the process try to smear me.” On 10/26/2020, Lopez-Negrete filed an ethics complaint against Jones related to this incident. 

Lopez-Negrete has been employed as a Clark County public defender since he was admitted to the Nevada Bar 10 years ago. In that time, he has represented hundreds of clients, participated in 20 trials and authored 11 appeals, including writs of habeas corpus. Based on research of his work, a member of the law school team characterized Lopez-Negrete as “a zealous advocate who works hard for each client, believes in the integrity of the law as opposed to just managing cases, and appears to go beyond what is expected of public defenders and what their caseload typically allows for.”

In one self-reported case on his questionnaire, Lopez-Negrete described how his client faced drug trafficking charges and a mandatory prison sentence despite the fact that she was clearly a drug addict, not a drug seller, and was only in possession of less than a half ounce of drugs. The charges stemmed from a law that allowed any person possessing a certain minimum amount of drugs to be charged as a drug “trafficker,” regardless of whether there was any evidence of drug sales; that law has since been repealed. Lopez-Negrete characterized it as a hard-fought trial that was rewarding because the jury found that the client was not a trafficker and only found her guilty of simple possession — so she could enter drug treatment programs to get the help she needed. 

In another self-reported case, State v. Juan Perez, Perez’s attorney withdrew as counsel at Perez’s request because he said he could no longer afford a private attorney. After Perez replied “thank you” to Judge Doug Smith’s agreement that he would need a court-appointed public defender, Smith stated that Perez “had an attitude” — and increased his bail from $3,000 to $1 million. Lopez-Negrete was then assigned as counsel and filed a pre-trial writ of mandamus, which asked the Nevada Supreme Court to intervene in the trial court’s proceedings before a final judgment had been entered. Such motions are very rare and only granted in extraordinary circumstances. The high court ruled in Perez’s favor and assigned the case to a new judge. Lopez-Negrete stated that this experience taught him to work under pressure because he felt, “every day [his] client sat in jail was unjust” but he knew the Supreme Court’s decision would be final. 

In State v. White, Lopez-Negrete was co-counsel representing a man who entered a home he owned and subsequently shot his estranged wife and her boyfriend during an argument, killing his wife. In addition to other charges, the husband was charged with burglary while in possession of a firearm. The defense argued that a person cannot legally burglarize his own home where there is no legal impediment, such as a temporary protection order or restraining order, that would otherwise limit the ability of an owner to access his own property. The trial court agreed and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the decision, clarifying the definition of burglary under Nevada law. Lopez-Negrete has no citations for ethics violations.