The judge in Department 5 of the District Court faces a diverse set of demands on the bench, overseeing civil, criminal and drug court cases.
The two candidates for the seat this year, attorneys Veronica Barisich and Terry Coffing, each have extensive civil experience, but they both said they also have the experience necessary to handle criminal and drug court cases in their bids to fill the seat vacated by retiring judge Carolyn Ellsworth.
“I have handled felony criminal trials,” said Coffing. “Numerous complex civil litigation trials, and I have judicial experience, with seven years as a tribal court judge for a federally recognized tribe and more than 12 years as a justice of peace pro-tem.”
Coffing served as law clerk for drug court program founder Jack Lehman in 1992. He will be a judge who emphasizes experience, efficiency and transparency, he said.
“I was there for its (drug court’s) first graduate in 1993,” Coffing said. “So, I believe I’m unique in this race and having experience at all three of the categories that are currently assigned to Department 5.”
Barisich, meanwhile, said she has a diverse skill set practiced in a variety of court settings — both civil and criminal. She is running on a platform of “experience, common sense, kindness.”
“I’ve practiced civil litigation in general law for 15 years,” Barisich said. “Breach of contract, negligence, property disputes, defamation, torts, drafting contracts, all of the above. And, I also have experience practicing family law, which is divorce, child custody, protective orders. That is a different skill set and statutes. So, I can move easily between different areas.”
Barisich earned her law degree in 2004, then went to work for the law firm of Dempsey, Roberts & Smith. She became a senior attorney at the firm. She practiced civil litigation and family law until 2017. That year, Barisich joined Mandarich Law Group, focusing on civil litigation and consumer debt law.
Coffing was licensed to practice law in Nevada in 1993. He said he has presided over and litigated numerous jury and bench trials in state and federal courts. Coffing has served as president and managing partner of MAC Law for 17 years, where he serves as co-chair of the litigation department.
The candidates were asked during a recent Review-Journal debate about their approach to sentencing criminal defendants. Coffing said he would consider aggravating and mitigating factors and pre-sentencing reports in each case to come to a just sentence.
“If I have someone I’m sentencing who is a five-time repeat offender I can be certain that my sentence will be at the upper end of the range,” Coffing said. “But, if there is a first time offender of a violent crime, or a crime involving intoxication such as a drunken driving with substantial harm, there are diversionary programs that need to be looked at.”
Barisich said of her judicial philosophy “all people deserve to be heard and have access to law and justice.”
“In my courtroom all people will get that right,” Barisich said.
Barisich said she will be tough on crime in criminal cases with a goal of reducing recidivism.
“I will be fair and firm but strict when needed,” Barisich said. “I will hold criminal behavior accountable but too many first time non-violent offenders get long jail time and that is just not working. So I would look to alternatives.”