ELKO — The discussion between justice of the peace candidates Mason Simons, incumbent, and Antoinette Chiesa, challenger, continually circled back to the law and common sense.
The two participated in a forum, answering prepared topical questions, on Oct. 9 at the Elko Conference Center.
“The main thing is with the justice of the peace, the best thing you can do is to be prepared, and it has a lot to do with common sense,” Chiesa said. “I would really love to help people out, and feel that I would be a servant of the law and not a maker of the law ... .”
Simons, the Elko Township Justice of the Peace for Department A, called his service a sacred honor and said “I take that service very seriously.”
He differed with his opponent on her philosophy.
“The job of a judge is to apply the law to the facts,” Simons said. “So a judge has a responsibility to know what the law is. It isn’t a matter of common sense. It’s about a knowledge of the law.”
The incumbent repeated several times his three key focuses: to ensure that the court system is a mechanism for accountability; to make sure that those who are wronged are made whole; and to take actions that keep the community safe.
Simons has served as a judicial officer in some variety in Elko County for 12 years. He has a bachelor of arts from Utah State University, a juris doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is a candidate for a master’s degree in judicial studies from the University of Nevada, Reno.
“Wow, he’s got a lot more experience than I do,” Chiesa said after hearing her opponent explain his judicial philosophy. “But the way that I would approach the courtroom is, No. 1, I do care about people.”
The challenger said she would follow the law while trying to help offenders “and give them some incentive to change their lives.” She said she would refer offenders to rehabilitation programs and offer rehabilitation programs in jail so that those who have served time don’t emerge from incarceration the same as they went in. If the county could not fund such programs, Chiesa said she would seek alternative financing.
“You do the best you can for each case. Each case is different,” she said, adding that she has never been a judge but has sat in on court cases. “You basically just have to decide what’s best for that particular situation, take the facts down, go in with an open mind. I do believe it has to be with common sense.”
Simons again countered his opponent’s reliance on common sense in answering a later question.
“I hear this common sense thing over and over again. Every judicial election they talk about this common sense thing,” Simons said. “It sounds nice to say that but that’s what actually gets people in trouble, right? … that’s not in reality what a judge is supposed to be doing.”
The candidates’ differences in approach also surfaced in their answers to a question on what Elko County should do about the perceived issue of drug abuse.
“They [the deputies] always seem to want to go after the big guys, the ones that provide the drugs and make money and hurt the people … I truly believe that we should go with the little ones, the little guys, the ones that use it because I feel that the domestic violence occurs from that,” Chiesa said.
“My opponent talks about going after the little guys,” Simons retorted. “I would just remind my opponent that judges don’t have any role in the initiation of criminal investigations.”
He said alcohol and drug abuse is a problem in Elko County, and many cases that go before the court are somehow related to substance abuse.
“I am the biggest proponent that you will find for the role of our specialty court programs that exist in our community,” he said. “These are critically important. Why are they important? Because they address the underlying issues that cause these criminal behaviors to occur.”
Each candidate had the opportunity to describe why they thought they were the best person to serve as justice of the peace.
“I want to be able to have the opportunity to make changes in people’s lives,” Chiesa said. “... I abide by the law all the time, and I hate people that don’t. It really bothers me. I just want to be able to be a part of the system and learn as much as Mason Simons does.”
Simons said he wants to serve in this position because he thinks he is the most qualified person in the race.