CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Nevada voters decide Nov. 5 whether to give Chief Justice Bill Maupin another term on the state Supreme Court -- or elect challenger Don Chairez, a former district judge and congressional candidate.
In a second state Supreme Court race, voters have only one choice -- other than "none of these candidates." Clark County District Judge Mark Gibbons is running unopposed for the seat being vacated by veteran Justice Cliff Young.
Maupin says he's happy with the progress of his campaign for a second, six-year term on the high court. He also likes a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll that showed him with a 31-22 percentage-point edge over Chairez.
However, the late August poll also showed 40 percent of those surveyed were undecided -- and Chairez said he was more concerned about voter views now, at the end of the campaign season.
Maupin also has an edge over Chairez in fund raising. His last report showed him with $232,370 in contributions to the $88,500 Chairez had raised.
The incumbent has focused his campaign on what he describes as the Supreme Court's "tremendous strides" in reducing a case backlog and streamlining the judicial system.
The Supreme Court has adopted comprehensive case management rules for lower courts in Nevada's biggest urban areas, and a new business court will help to speed resolution of legal disputes, Maupin says.
The backlog of uncompleted cases has been cut by 1,100 cases and the public response to the court during his tenure has been positive, Maupin adds.
Maupin also questions whether Chairez can back up his claims that the incumbent hasn't "stood up" for people, saying the court "has done its level best for the last six years to give fair and evenhanded justice to everyone in the state of Nevada."
Chairez has insisted his record as a district judge shows he "did more to protect peoples' freedoms" than Maupin has. He contends Maupin "has too often sided with big law firms, big government, and hasn't stood up for the common people."
Maupin was appointed a district court judge in 1993 by then-Gov. Bob Miller. He won a district court election in 1994 and was elected to his first term on the Supreme Court in 1996.
Chairez served as a deputy district attorney in Las Vegas before getting a Clark County District Court appointment in 1994. He stepped down in 1998 to run as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House, but lost by a 49-46 percent margin to Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
Earlier this year, Chairez, now a lawyer and television legal analyst, said he'd run for Clark County district attorney. But the attorney general's office said the Nevada Constitution barred him from seeking a nonjudicial office.
District judges are ineligible to hold nonjudicial offices during a term for which they're elected. Chairez won a six-year term as a district judge in the 1996 elections, so the restriction on partisan office-seeking lasts through the 2002 elections. The Supreme Court race is nonpartisan.
Gibbons says he wants to bring "energy and expertise" the Supreme Court and help cut the time it takes to resolve disputes that come before the high court.
Gibbons was elected a district judge in 1996 and has presided over many high-profile trials, including Jessica Williams' trial for an accident that killed six Las Vegas teen-agers in March 2000.
Gibbons was elected chief district judge in Clark County last year. Before he was a judge, he spent 21 years as a private attorney, specializing in civil litigation.
Retiring Justice Young says he's keeping a promise made when he filed for a third term on the state Supreme Court in 1996: he wouldn't seek a fourth term this year.
Young, who turns 80 on Nov. 7, will have completed 18 years on the state's highest court when his current six-year term ends.
Before his election to the Supreme Court, he served 14 years as a Republican state senator from Reno, from 1966 to 1980, and also served in the U.S. House for two terms in the 1950s.
He was defeated by Democrat Alan Bible when he tried to move to the U.S. Senate in 1956.