By Chief Judge Cynthia Leung
Las Vegas Municipal Court has been in operation for over 100 years, and while it may have had humble beginnings, it also has a long tradition of innovation and service. In 1982, the court created the Alternative Sentencing and Education Department, designed to address defendant accountability, recidivism, and public safety by methods other than incarceration. It is from this foundation that our Specialty Court Programs were born.
In 2004, Judge Cedric Kerns launched the first Specialty Court program, HOPE Court. Habitual Offender Prevention and Education (HOPE) Court, now run by Judge Bert Brown, was created to reduce arrests among chronic offenders. The original twenty-five participants in this program had been arrested a combined total of 8,114 times at the time they entered into the program. This first program was a collaboration between the courts, community partners, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Today, Las Vegas Municipal Court is the largest municipal court in the state of Nevada and the programs now offered have been developed to meet the diverse needs in our ever-growing community. Each of our judges and hearing commissioner preside over a specialty court program in addition to handling daily criminal dockets and civil traffic matters.
I preside over Women in Need of Change (WIN) Court, which focuses on female offenders who have a history of trauma, substance use disorders, and co-occurring mental health issues. Many of the women who enter this program are victims of human trafficking, and severe neglect and abuse from childhood. Our goal is to create a path to self-worth by creating individualized treatment plans, trauma counseling, and job training. The graduates are often reunited with family and children.
Judge Susan Roger presides over the DUI Court program which addresses those with multiple driving under the influence of alcohol or drug offenses. Participants are clinically evaluated and must commit to a treatment program of at least 52 weeks. This program focuses on changing drinking and driving behaviors to save lives.
Judge Cara Campbell presides over the Mental Health Court program which focuses on identifying and addressing the needs of defendants that have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness. This program assists with on-going counseling, treatment, medication monitoring, stabilization and access to community support. The Mental Health program seeks to reduce the number of arrests and hospitalizations, for its participants, and also strives to build bridges between families and resources.
Judge Bert Brown presides over HOPE Court. HOPE Court provides intensive supervision, counseling, and guidance as its participants work to make different choices for themselves. Many are experiencing homelessness and are diagnosed with a substance use disorder. This program targets the cycle of addiction and criminal offenses and seeks to guide its graduates to living independently and working.
Judge Cedric Kerns created and presides over YO Court – Youth Offender Drug Court. YO Court addresses the issues of the younger adult with active cases in the municipal court system. This program utilizes creative and cutting edge treatment modalities, and requires the family or a supportive family member to participate in the intensive therapeutic process. Understanding and addressing this component is key to the success of the participant, who also receives counseling with substance use disorders, mental health issues, job training, and placement.
Judge Kelly Giordani presides over the Veteran’s Treatment Court which operates in collaboration with the Veteran’s Administration to help connect participants with housing, medical, mental health, and substance abuse services. This program addresses specific issues unique to our men and women who have bravely served our country.
Hearing Commissioner Shannon Nordstrom presides over the FRESH START program, which is specifically designed to identify those defendants who are unsheltered or moving through homelessness. The goal of FRESH START is to address the underlying life issues that led to being unsheltered, and help individuals connect to community resources in order to attain stable housing, stable income, and to break the cycle of cite, arrest, and incarceration.
Commissioner Nordstrom also presides over the PST program. The Psychiatric Stabilization and Treatment program seeks to assist those in immediate crisis needing stabilization, triage, and referral to specialty court programs if appropriate.
All of our specialty court programs have the common goal of teaching the participants new tools and life skills to make different choices, and thereby reclaim their dignity and self-worth. In many cases, upon successful graduation, the cases are dismissed and the participant’s criminal records in the City of Las Vegas are sealed.
About this article: This article was originally published in the Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (Sep. 2023). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2023/communique-september-2023/
About the author
The Honorable Chief Judge Cynthia Leung is the first Chinese-American woman elected as Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge and has presided over Las Vegas Municipal Court Department 1 since 2008. Chief Judge Leung has served as President of Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction (2014) and was named 2015 Judge of the Year by the Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction. She has been recognized for her successful work with Women in Need of Change (WIN) Court program.
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