Updated March 14, 2020 - 11:17 pm
Three Las Vegas attorneys vying for a Clark County District Court seat faced off in a debate to discuss judicial temperament, philosophy and the cost of justice.
Veronica Barisich, an attorney who specializes in consumer debt litigation; Terry Coffing, an attorney who specializes in civil litigation; and Blair Parker, an attorney who specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, insurance defense and commercial litigation, all seek to become a judge in Department 5, a position with no incumbent. District Judge Carolyn Ellsworth is retiring.
The job pays roughly $165,000 per year.
Wednesday’s debate at the Las Vegas Review-Journal studio, which can be viewed at reviewjournal.com/tag/judicial-debates, is one of 23 debates organized by the newspaper for the more than 70 candidates in judicial primary races for the Supreme Court, District Court and Family Court. The Review-Journal has invited all the judicial candidates who are on the June 9 primary ballot.
A fourth candidate seeking the Department 5 seat, Eric Abbott, an attorney who specializes in copyrights and intellectual property, declined to participate in the debate.
The top two finishers will advance to November’s general election. But if the first-place finisher gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, that candidate will win the election.
Moderator Steve Sebelius, the Review-Journal’s politics and government editor, started the debate with a question about the candidates’ judicial philosophies.
Barisich said the most important thing to her is to “listen and take the facts of the case and apply the law. Plain and simple.”
Coffing emphasized his 15 years of experience as a judge pro tem — one who sits in temporarily for another judge — saying he believes that experience gives him an edge in the race.
“I think during that experience I have consistently maintained a philosophy that emphasizes efficiency, consistency and transparency,” Coffing said.
Parker said his philosophy is to advocate for the law, rather than for either side. It’s a different approach than an attorney takes, Parker said, adding he believes he can make the transition smoothly.
Coffing said he thinks experience on both sides of the courtroom is important, because “what makes a good attorney will make a good judge.”
Barisich said she also serves as a judge pro tem in small-claims court, so she has already learned how to make the transition from a litigator’s mindset.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do since I’ve been a child, as well, and I think with the experience, knowledge and ability that I can do so,” Barisich said.
None of the candidates believes people have adequate access to legal aid when they need it, and they offered a variety of options to fix the problem.
Parker said he thinks judges have the opportunity to play a big role in the time and money required for any given case.
“Litigation is expensive,” Parker said. “I think it’s important as a judge to try to do those things that use time efficiently and get the cases heard and determine quickly and decisions rather quickly so that it doesn’t take as much attorney time and doesn’t last as long.”
Barisich echoed the sentiment, saying she believes there is a good amount of information online to help people understand the process in court, but that there’s more judges can do. If appointed, Barisich promised to push for settlements when possible, to avoid bringing cases to trial.
As a judge, Coffing said, he would emphasize the importance of pro bono work.
“I encourage, subtly as current judges do, taking on those pro bono cases so that the people who are underserved have that adequate access to the courtroom,” Coffing said. “I, too, am concerned with the cost of litigation, but we have the facilities; we have the resources. It’s encouraging the attorneys to be, perhaps, a bit more civic-minded in using their precious resources to help people who are so desperately in need.”
Barisich and Parker echoed a desire to help those in need, saying they would try to intervene when possible in their courtrooms to help those who don’t have adequate legal representation. Both said they would consider taking sidebar meetings with the attorneys, or even asking additional questions of witnesses in court.
Barisich and Parker both emphasized the importance of settlements, saying they would avoid bringing cases to trial if possible, to save time and money. Coffing pushed for an “early, neutral evaluation, where a neutral party looks at a case very early and provides each side with their thoughts and opinions” about how the case could best be settled.