By Kelsey Givens
After more than a decade of serving her community from the bench, Justice of the Peace Tina Brisebill is set to retire next month, taking with her a long list of accomplishments and changes she helped instill in the local justice court.
Brisebill was elected to be a justice of the peace 12 years ago after deciding to run when Judge Margaret Whittaker decided not to try for the position again.
“The thought of having to work for any other person, who didn’t know the court as well as I knew it, I think is what made me decide to do that,” she said. “I thought if I’m going to have to train someone, I may as well do it myself.”
Before she decided to try for the seat, Brisebill spent many years working as a clerk and administrator for the court, learning how the system worked and advocating for changes to help grow and improve the local justice court.
“I was clerk and then we were able to hire a few more people, and I kind of just by virtue of the fact I’ve been here the longest became the administrator and then I ran for office when she decided not to run,” the judge said.
Though many are drawn to serve in the courts after having been a prosecutor, defense attorney or involved in the law in some other way, Brisebill first discovered a passion for the law while working in the claims department for a major insurance company in California.
“One of my first what I would consider career jobs, I had other jobs when I was a teenager and in school, but my first real what you could consider a grown-up job was with an insurance company in Los Angeles and we were really big insurance company. And I was just kind of drawn to the claims department, as opposed to underwriting or being an agent or some of the other fields, those didn’t interest me at all. So I got into the claims department and starting from the filing department. I would read all of the forms I was putting into the files, so I knew what they all were and I had memorized the numbers of the forms, so I thought well this is really fascinating all this stuff,” she said. “So I was attracted to that and I started taking classes on tort law, which is civil wrongs, and it was so fascinating to me. So when I left Los Angeles and I came to Nevada, I got a job in an insurance company in Las Vegas and that was a real culture shock, because they offered me about a quarter of what I was making before as salary. In those years there was very little, if any, respect for females. I mean if you had a job in Las Vegas they assumed you were a call girl because call girls and show girls and maids and what not, those were the people who were working. Other people weren’t recognized. It was a tough market to get into.”
After leaving her second job to go and work for the Hyatt Corporation, again finding herself fascinated by the legal aspects of hospitality and hotel liability, Brisebill found herself out in Pahrump working for Preferred Equities.
After working for them for nine years, she was asked by Whittaker to come work with her as a clerk for the Pahrump Justice Court.
From then on, Brisebill knew this was where she wanted to be.
In her time in both a clerical and judicial role in the justice court, Brisebill said there are several major accomplishments she is proud to say she was part of bringing to Pahrump.
“We had the first computer system in the county and the second year that I was on the bench we converted to the new case management system and that was quite an accomplishment,” she said. “You know one of the other things I implemented, which seems to be working fairly well, although I haven’t kept statistics because frankly I don’t have time, was the 1:30 p.m. session on Mondays for all of the DUIs and domestic batteries and for those people to come back in to check their progress on the things they need to get done. I really think it cut down on the recidivism rates. And a couple of the attorneys have given the same opinion that it had something to do with that because the number of second and third offenses that we had dropped. So I think that had a lot to do with making people accountable. And for someone who is a good person, they don’t want to do it again.”
In addition to bringing updated technology and a system to keep better tabs on DUI and domestic battery offenders to the court, Brisebill, along with Whittaker were instrumental in getting bailiffs for the courtrooms as well.
“Time was we didn’t have a bailiff. It took a long time for Judge Whittaker, she and I both, we hammered on the commissioners about how we really, really needed someone in there,” she said. “When we were down in the other building and she was on the bench, people were only about a foot away from us and we had no one in there at all. It was scary, so it was a good day when we finally got a bailiff in there, but even having just one bailiff in the courtroom things can happen and he can’t be everywhere. We were a small town and they didn’t think anything would ever happen. But look what just happened in Connecticut, you don’t know what’s going to happen ever, you can’t predict and people of all things are unpredictable … It was probably more than 10 years that we went without a bailiff. I think the commissioners at the time, they’ve never spent time in a court, and they didn’t have any idea of the type of people we deal with.”
Though she had to fight to get some of her goals accomplished during her time in Pahrump Justice Court, Brisebill said it was a satisfying feeling and she is very proud to have been able to do so much during her tenure with the court.
The judge said she is going to miss almost everything about her job when she leaves in January, but some of the things she won’t miss are fighting for people to recognize that the courts don’t operate like any other office in the county.
“I don’t want to single any one thing out, but trying to keep the independence of the court has been kind of a battle. Not a ferocious battle, but there are three branches of government and some people don’t understand that. We’re a third branch of government, we don’t function like any other office in the county, and we’re different. And we have had issues in the past being treated as a third branch, kind of grouping us into a big pot, and one size does not fit all when you’re talking about it,” she said.
Though she doesn’t like to dwell on any of the negative things that may have happened, she was more than willing to share some of the more memorable moments from her time on the bench.
“Most memorable moment? That easily goes to the young man that fainted,” she said. “I believe he was there for just a traffic citation, and he was so nice, he was such a pleasant looking young man, and I believe he was the last person I called in the arraignment session and he was standing there and I was explaining to him about whatever it was he needed to get, a driver’s license or whatever, it was minor, and he was looking right at me and all of the sudden he went straight back – just out cold and there was no warning at all,”she said.
And its moments like those and working with an amazing staff that she said has made her time with the justice court a great experience.