Stephanie Keels gained prominence in Nevada’s legal community as a candidate in the 2022 special election for an open judgeship on the 8th Judicial District Court’s Family Division. Although she ultimately lost in the crowded field of candidates, Keels impressed many with her diverse legal background and passion for improving family court processes. This article will provide an in-depth look at Keels’ career, her 2022 judicial campaign, and her potential impact going forward.
Early Life and Education
Stephanie Keels was born and raised in Reno, Nevada, where she graduated from Reno High School. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Nevada, Reno. Keels then attended law school at the University of Iowa College of Law, graduating with her Juris Doctor degree in 2007.
Professional Background Before Judiciary
After law school, Keels returned to Nevada and worked as an associate attorney at several Reno law firms over the next few years. She gained experience in a wide range of legal practice areas, including family law, employment law, personal injury, and civil litigation. Keels handled divorce and child custody cases, helping many Reno families navigate the challenging family court process.
In 2015, Keels joined the firm of Critchlow & Keels, LLP as a partner, focusing her practice on family law and child advocacy. She spent seven years at the firm establishing herself as a top family attorney in Washoe County before deciding to run for an open Family Court judgeship.
Decision To Run For Judgeship
When a seat opened up on the Family Division of the 8th Judicial District Court in early 2022, Keels felt compelled to throw her hat in the ring. As a mother of two children herself, Keels was passionate about improving the family court system. She had witnessed firsthand how contentious divorce and child custody battles could negatively impact children.
Keels believed her extensive family law expertise coupled with her compassion for children’s wellbeing made her an ideal candidate for the judgeship. Though she had no prior experience as a judge, Keels felt equipped to take on the challenge and run a fair, efficient family court.
2022 Nevada Judicial Election
Keels was one of six candidates competing in the November 8, 2022 special general election for the open Department A seat. The nonpartisan race attracted several qualified contenders, making it a highly competitive field.
Keels campaigned on her strong record as an experienced family law attorney with over 15 years representing Nevada families in court. She emphasized her focus on protecting children’s best interests and helping families transition smoothly through the legal process. Keels gained endorsements from prominent local leaders and groups, including the Nevada Judges Association.
Though she put considerable time and effort into fundraising and getting her message out to voters, Keels ultimately fell short on election night. Outspent by some opponents, she finished fifth in the six-way contest.
On November 8, 2022, attorney Mari Parladé prevailed in the special judicial election, garnering 25% of the vote. Keels finished with 14.5% of the ballots cast, placing fifth among the six candidates.
The winner Parladé and top vote-getter Kristine Brewer both significantly outraised and outspent Keels during the campaign. While Keels was a formidable candidate in her own right, she was unable to overcome the fundraising advantage of Parladé and Brewer in this competitive open seat race.
Potential Future Runs For Office
Though her first judicial campaign came up short, don’t count out the possibility of Keels running for office again the future. She gained valuable experience as a candidate, and there will likely be more open judgeships or political opportunities down the road.
After learning from her 2022 election loss, Keels could craft an improved campaign strategy focused on expanding her fundraising operation and political network. She has the option to bide her time and wait for the right electoral opening, whether judicial or partisan office. Keels clearly exhibited a passion for public service and policy in her inaugural run.
Judicial Philosophy and Priorities
Throughout her judicial campaign, Keels emphasized a commitment to ethical, compassionate decision-making along with deep knowledge of Nevada family law. Her top priority was assessing each case based on the children’s best interests and minimizing negative impacts on families.
Keels stressed the need for Family Court judges to offer clear, consistent rulings and work diligently to resolve cases in a prompt manner. She also touted the importance of judicial temperament, pledging to provide each litigant with respect and consideration regardless of circumstances.
In addition, Keels highlighted the value of judges educating themselves on issues like addiction, domestic violence, and child special needs to better equip themselves for the complex cases before them. Though she didn’t ultimately don the black robe, Keels left a mark on the Nevada judiciary through her advocacy.
A lifelong Nevada resident, Keels resides in Reno with her husband Steve and two children. When not practicing law, she enjoys skiing and boating with her family, gardening, and community volunteer work.
Keels has volunteered extensively with local organizations supporting children’s health and education. She also co-chaired a community initiative to expand low-cost legal resources for disadvantaged families requiring legal aid. Keels’ passion for community clearly translates to her legal career and judge ambitions.
Analyzing the 2022 Campaign
Reviewing Keels’ 2022 judicial campaign provides some insightful takeaways for aspiring judges and first-time candidates. She positioned herself well experience-wise in focusing on her family law background. Keels also successfully conveyed her key messages around protecting children and reforming family court.
However, Keels was clearly outmatched financially by the top two candidates, Parladé and Brewer. Building a broader political network and seeking high-dollar donors early on could have closed this fundraising gap some. She will need to scale up her fundraising efforts significantly to viably compete in future contested elections.
Becoming involved with local activism and boards also gets a candidate’s name out there, strengthening their community image and name recognition before election season hits. Leveraging social media and digital advertising proved powerful for the winners, another area Keels likely need to grow in future races.
Stephanie’s Legacy and Impact
While she came up short on Election Day, Keels leaves behind an impactful legacy through her boundary-breaking judicial run. She brought critical issues like domestic violence and children’s welfare to the forefront during the campaign. Keels also provided inspiration to women lawyers across Nevada hoping to ascend to the judiciary someday themselves.
The respect Keels earned across the Nevada legal scene bodes well for potential future campaigns or appointments to judgeships. Her 2022 run got her valuable notoriety, and she’ll undoubtedly remain a prominent voice for improving Family Court policies and children’s lives in the years ahead. Even without the robe, her advocacy can create positive change.
In 2022, attorney Stephanie Keels made an impressive first run for an open seat on the Nevada 8th Judicial District Court’s Family Division. Her background as an accomplished family law practitioner and passion for child advocacy shone through. Though she ultimately came up short in the crowded six-way contest, Keels made her mark on the Nevada legal scene and judicial elections. With this inaugural campaign under her belt, don’t be surprised if Keels throws her hat back in the ring when future judgeship opportunities arise. Regardless of elected office, she will continue impacting family law and child welfare in Nevada through her legal career. Keels serves as an inspiration for women lawyers seeking to follow in her footsteps.
What legal experience did Stephanie Keels have before running for judge?
Keels had over 15 years of experience practicing family law in Reno. She handled many divorce and child custody cases over her career.
What percentage of the vote did Keels receive in the 2022 election?
Keels received 14.5% of the vote, coming in 5th place out of 6 candidates.
Who won the 2022 judicial election instead of Keels?
Attorney Mari Parladé prevailed with 25% of ballots cast. Kristine Brewer finished second.
Could Keels run again for judge in the future?
Absolutely. She gained valuable experience during her initial campaign. There are likely to be more open judgeship seats in coming years.
What was one of Keels’ top priorities if elected judge?
She emphasized a desire to reform family court processes to minimize negative impacts on children going through divorces.