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Nevada Elects First Woman to High Court : Politics: Miriam Shearing will add a 'female voice.' U.S. Senate, House incumbents win.

November 05, 1992|PHILIP HAGER | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

Nevada voters elected a woman to the state Supreme Court for the first time, following a hard-fought campaign marked by biting television ads.

Clark County District Judge Miriam Shearing, 57, an abortion-rights advocate who called for a "female voice" on the high court, defeated District Judge Charles Thompson, 52, winning 43% of the vote to Thompson's 39%.

Shearing will become the 40th woman currently serving on state high courts around the country, according to the National Assn. of Women Judges. During the acrimonious campaign, she described herself as "unbought and unbossed" by casinos and other special interests.

"People are ready for a change and a broader representation on our Supreme Court," Shearing said Wednesday. "All these white males we've had on the court have come from the same background. People recognized we have to have some diversity."

The judge said she had anticipated a rough-and-tumble campaign. "I knew it would be nasty because I recognized there were a lot of powerful interests who wanted their man on the court," she said.

In other races, Nevada voters reelected Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and the state's two congressional incumbents, Republican Barbara Vucanovich and Democrat Jim Bilbray.

Shearing's TV ads described the Nevada Supreme Court as the "last line of defense" against a controversial proposed nuclear dump site and implied her opponent was captive of the nuclear industry.

"Now, more than ever, we need a justice who's beyond the reach of special interest money, who will put our health and safety first," the ads said.

Thompson presented commercials showing a little girl with a doll and accusing Shearing of delaying action for two years on an appeal by a condemned inmate who scalded, burned and murdered a 4-year-old girl.

The ads said Shearing gave the killer two extra years to live and that the judge should have heard "this child's screams from the scalding water" every day following the trial. Shearing acknowledged she had momentarily "forgot about the case" but she later denied the killer's appeal.

Shearing called Thompson's ads "disgusting," saying they falsely portrayed her as soft on child abuse and implied the killer had been freed when in fact he remains in prison.

Shearing will succeed Justice John C. Mowbray, who did not seek reelection after three court colleagues moved to limit his authority and urged him to retire.

A native of New York state, Shearing worked her way through Cornell University as a waitress and came to Las Vegas with her husband, an ophthalmologist, in 1969.

She began her career on the bench in 1977 as a justice of the peace in Clark County and became the first woman on the District Court in 1983. Three years later, she became chief judge on the court and served as president of the Nevada District Judges Assn.

Voters in this gambling-minded state also decided to retain the coin toss as a means of deciding who will be chief justice of the state high court. At present, the post goes to the high court member whose six-year term is next to expire, but when two are in line for the job a coin flip decides the issue.

By a resounding 63% no vote, the electorate turned down a proposal to allow the five justices to elect the chief.

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