An LGBTQ judge in Las Vegas reflects on the career of the former

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — It was the 1990s, and it would have been legal for supervisors at Tara Clark Newberry’s police academy to fire her if she answered the intern’s pointed question honestly.

“He turns to me and asks me: ‘How do you know so much about homosexuals?’ “, she recalled recently.

The seconds that followed felt like an hour.

“I said, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna be who I am, and it’s their problem if somebody else doesn’t like it,'” she told the Las Vegas Review- Newspaper.

That day at the police academy, Clark Newberry became Cincinnati’s first openly LGBTQ police officer. After a career change and a move to Las Vegas, she took another step last year when she became the first openly LGBTQ judge elected to the Clark County District Court.

In a recent interview with the Review-Journal, the 47-year-old said she hopes for a day when her firsts aren’t notable anymore.


“When we get to the point where there are no more firsts, we all become ordinary people,” she said. “And I think that’s really everyone’s goal. I never thought of it as, “I want to be special.” I don’t want to be left out.

Clark Newberry was 21 when she enrolled in the Cincinnati Police Department Academy. She had no intention of coming out, especially since Cincinnati still had a city law that allowed LGBTQ people to be fired.

It was during the academy’s diversity training that Clark Newberry said she couldn’t keep quiet. She raised her hand again and again to correct an insensitive comment or give her opinion, until her classmate asked her question.

“I paused and said, ‘Well, I’m a lesbian, and I hope you can all handle this,'” she said. “You could feel the oxygen sucking this room in faster than probably a bomb going off.”

She was expecting to be fired when she was called into her sergeant’s office the next day. Instead, the sergeant demanded that she let him know if anyone was treating her differently.

Clark Newberry continued to work as a police officer for eight years, until ill health forced him to find a new career. At the time, it was the early 2000s, and she wanted to live in a state with more protections for LGBTQ people, so that she could one day have a family of her own.

She took the advice of some of her colleagues and decided to become a lawyer. She graduated from California Western School of Law in San Diego in 2006 and moved to Las Vegas when a law firm recruited her. She only planned to live in Nevada for five years.

Instead, Clark Newberry built a career as a litigator, practicing civil law in areas such as bankruptcy, debt defense and real estate. She has served as a mediator for the Nevada Foreclosure Mediation Program in District Court and for the United States Bankruptcy Court. She has done pro bono work with the Southern Nevada Legal Aid Center and Nevada Legal Services, and has spent time representing LGBTQ couples seeking adoption.

Ten years ago, Clark Newberry opened herself up to scrutiny again when she and her ex-wife joined seven other couples as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban. Clark Newberry said that as a member of Nevada’s legal community, she felt she had a “moral obligation” to challenge the law.

“If you have the ability to help someone, you should,” she said. “And I think that was kind of the way I saw it, it’s a huge issue and I had the ability to do something about it.”

The lawsuit was successful when the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014, two years before the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in national scale.

Clark Newberry said it was remarkable how much public opinion had changed in the decade since. When her children were younger, hospital staff asked condescending questions about which of their parents was the “real mom.” Now her children’s peers no longer think of their family.

“It’s like you’re seeing this progress and development that’s happened, and it feels like it’s on a very steady trajectory,” she said. “And then between the late 90s and mid 2000s, boy, that trajectory just accelerated. And it continues to do so.

Clark Newberry said she became a judge because she enjoyed learning the law. She won election in November 2020 for the district court seat after running against attorney Jacob Reynolds.

District Judge Tierra Jones, who handled cases with Clark Newberry and served as a mentor during his first year on the bench, said she had one of the most organized caseloads in the district court .

“She’s always that person who always makes herself available when needed, as far as the justice system is concerned,” Jones said.

Jones said she became the first black woman appointed to the district court in 2017 and the first black woman elected the following year. Like Clark Newberry, she hopes their “early” titles will one day become the norm.

“I think the diversity that’s brought to the bench right now is very important,” she said. “It just helps provide those different perspectives, because the bench needs to reflect the community.”

In March, the Southern Nevada LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, the Lambda Business Association, invited Clark Newberry to speak at the organization’s monthly luncheon in honor of Women’s History Month. Clark Newberry, who was a college history major, spent most of her 20-minute speech describing other firsts in Nevada’s legal community.

Pam Jones, a Las Vegas lawyer and association board member, said seeing Clark Newberry get elected and hearing him speak over lunch brought tears to her eyes.

“I’m proud,” she said. “I am proud of our community for their support. I’m proud of her for leading the way.

Pam Jones is not related to the judge with the same last name.

Clark Newberry told the lunch crowd that she was only able to be the first openly LBGTQ judge elected to the district court because of the colleagues who paved the way for her.

“I certainly hope I’m not the last and I hope I continue to open the door for many more people,” she said.

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