First Black Named To Nevada Supreme Court

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Chief Clark County District Judge Michael Douglas was chosen Friday by Gov. Kenny Guinn to fill a Nevada Supreme Court vacancy and become the first black justice in the 140-year history of the state's highest court.

"Judge Douglas has impeccable credentials and is a worthy addition to the Supreme Court of Nevada," Guinn said, adding Douglas has served since 1996 as a district judge in Las Vegas and as chief judge in Clark County is "eminently qualified" for the Supreme Court.

Guinn on Wednesday and Thursday interviewed Douglas and two other finalists for the vacancy caused by the recent death of Justice Myron Leavitt. The other contenders were Las Vegas lawyer Gregory Smith and Reno attorney David Hunter Hamilton.

"Although replacing a man like Justice Leavitt, who was a good friend of mine, is by no means easy, Judge Douglas is a man of great intellect with all of the positive character traits that have always distinguished the great justices of our state," Guinn said.

Douglas said he was "greatly honored" by the appointment and "extremely excited for the opportunity to work with the other justices of the Supreme Court of Nevada during a very important juncture in the history of our state."

Douglas will serve on the Supreme Court until next November, when Nevada voters will decide three high court contests. Douglas already has said he's planning on running for a full six-year term on the court.

Born in Los Angeles, Douglas graduated from the University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco in 1974. After moving to Las Vegas in 1982, he worked for Nevada Legal Services for two years and then served as a deputy attorney general from 1984 to 1995.

The newest member of the state Supreme Court has been active in numerous law-related organizations and has received several awards. Douglas, who is married, also has been a longtime youth sports volunteer and coach.

The state Commission on Judicial Selection forwarded the names of Douglas, 56, Hamilton, 61, and Smith, 57, after collecting detailed applications from seven candidates and interviewing all of them.

The selection panel, chaired by Chief Justice Miriam Shearing, had the contenders fill out 52-question applications to get information on their education, law practice, business and community involvement, professional and personal conduct and health.

The three finalists were chosen based on the applications, letters of reference, written public comments and responses to questions during the interviews before the seven-member selection committee.

Leavitt, 73, who had diabetes and had undergone a kidney transplant last November, died unexpectedly on Jan. 9.

In addition to being a Supreme Court justice, Leavitt had served as state lieutenant governor, a Las Vegas city councilman, Clark County commissioner and justice of the peace.

Leavitt ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1982, and also made two unsuccessful rough-and-tumble runs for the Supreme Court, in 1988 and in 1994. He was finally elected to the high court in 1998.