PICTURED: Erik Nasarenko, Ventura County District Attorney
by Matthew A. Nash
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office has a slogan and an insignia that represents more than common welfare. It reads “Let Justice Be Done.”
In a city that is riddled with crime, from petty theft to human trafficking, it requires a force passionate in its efforts and effective in its attempts. The phrase “Let Justice Be Done” accurately summarizes the will possessed by most who work at the Ventura County Department of Justice.
Because I am fascinated by both the legal community and the role of district attorneys, I reached out to the Ventura County DA, a man named Erik Nasarenko, to ask him about his experience and line of work. During our meeting we explored important subjects that helped shape the way I view the DA’s office entirely.
We met on March 23. Due to COVID-19 regulations I had to wait near the front of the Hall of Justice, located on Victoria Street, and await a deputy to escort me to the third floor of the large government center. Growing up I would frequent this building. For the first time in my life, however, I kept walking, through the large wooden doors, each one displaying the Ventura County DA’s Office insignia.
Once I was seated in his office, he permitted me to stay for almost an hour and ask a very large array of questions on his schooling, line of career, shift in interest, and overall views on political, legal and ethical issues that flaunt themselves ruthlessly into the judicial and political realms.
Mr. Nasarenko began his career with an undergrad from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. When he finished his undergraduate degree, he pursued law school [at Loyola Law School] while living in Santa Monica and working in Los Angeles.
This led to another important question, a question that was enthusiastically answered. I asked, “What began your interest in the idea of a legal profession?” He responded with “books.”
Mr. Nasarenko said his love for the law, specifically court cases, began in the heavy pages of Scott Turow’s <em>The Burden of Proof,</em>, Harper Lee’s <em>To Kill a Mockingbird</em> and <em>Helter Skelter</em> by Vincent Bugliosi. From a young age he was fascinated by DNA evidence, prosecuting the guilty and, most of all, doing his duty for the American people.
When asked, “Why did you choose to prosecute over defend?”, he said he is a large fan of the “theme of accountability.” He also said, with a bit of humor, that he enjoyed being on offense. Growing up, and to this day, he has been involved in soccer and basketball, and said his passion for offense stretches from the field into the courtroom and, now, onto his desk.
The final and most important topic Mr. Nasarenko and I went over was the morality and mentality of a prosecutor. This is a subject I have thought about for years. In the legal profession, defense attorneys are often painted with polarization. They are given the moral spotlight, regardless of the people’s approval.
However, there is very little light that shines on the intensity of being a prosecutor, specifically managing an entire DA’s office. Erik Nasarenko has tried and brought to verdict over 63 cases of sexual violence, each one brutal in detail. He has seen horrors inside the courtroom that have traumatized jurors.
I asked Mr. Nasarenko, “How is it that you deal with such brutal cases, and then come home to your two daughters and be alright?”
“It isn’t easy,” he said. “You take one trial and use its knowledge to help you through the next one.”
When I asked about his motivation in the midst of these horrible cases, he said, “I think of the victims.” The Ventura County DA’s office dedicates a large amount of time and resource to the recovery of victims. Mr. Nasarenko says that he still talks with some of the victims of cases he has tried and won.
During my conversation with the Ventura County DA, we approached and put behind us many topics of investigation, logistics of the office, and how life as a trial attorney unfolds. It was an honor to speak directly with a man who understands what “Let Justice Be Done” truly means.
Matthew Nash is a high school student currently working on acquiring his associate degree, while writing various essays covering ethical and legal issues.