PICTURED: John Barrick speaks with voters in the Ojai Valley. Submitted photo

by Alex Wilson

When prosecutor John Barrick talks about his bid to unseat Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko in next month’s election, Barrick inevitably returns to the topic of making crime victims his top priority.  

Nasarenko cites his achievements in office since his appointment last year as reasons voters should re-elect him, as well as his experience as the former mayor of Ventura. Nasarenko said he created the first mental health unit in the DA’s office for times when treatment and rehabilitation is more appropriate than jail, and has cracked down on drug dealers who sell fentanyl.

Both candidates have spent years prosecuting cases in Ventura County, but both of them started off their professional careers in fields that were not related to law.

Barrick said he didn’t have the best home life growing up in Oxnard. Money was tight, and the idea of him going to college was never discussed. Despite that upbringing, Barrick said he put himself through California State University, Northridge, where he earned a degree in TV and film production, but also learned that working on sets was not something he ever wanted to do. Barrick worked for nearly 10 years at a job writing closed captions, which wasn’t the most satisfying job either, he said.

But a class in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules and regulations planted a seed that later grew into a desire to become a lawyer. Barrick started law school at age 31, before joining the Ventura County DA’s office.

Barrick said he made a commitment to put victims first right from his start as a prosecutor.  

“I wanted to be a real public servant by putting the needs of the community ahead of my own,” he said. “Adhering to that principle meant that serving crime victims and their families is more important than my pride, my ego, even my professional career if necessary. I’ve never violated that rule.” 

Nasarenko grew up in the San Fernando Valley and is the son of Ukrainian immigrants, he said. His dad worked in the defense industry and his mom was a school teacher.

DA Erik Nasarenko in court. Submitted photo

After deciding law was his calling and earning an undergraduate degree from University of California, Irvine, Nasarenko took a detour before going to law school.

“I ended up applying to law school as an undergrad but not getting accepted to any,” Nasarenko said with a laugh. “So I ended up going into public relations and community relations, primarily on behalf of public school districts.”

 Nasarenko finally took law school classes at night when he was in his 30s and was hired as a prosecutor in Ventura County after passing the bar exam. Nasarenko handled a variety of cases including felony vehicular manslaughter trials and worked with the county’s homeless court, but mostly prosecuted sex crimes, he said.

Barrick has been prosecuting homicide cases for seven years and said he has more courtroom experience than Nasarenko.

“When it comes to prosecutorial experience I beat him on every level. The number of trials. The number of cases. The seriousness of the cases. The different units. Every metric that you can use when it comes to experience as a prosecutor, I’m vastly more qualified,” Barrick said.

When former DA Greg Totten decided to leave office in the middle of his last term, Barrick and Nasarenko were among the attorneys who applied to be appointed DA by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. The board chose Nasarenko in a unanimous vote in January 2021.

“I knew that this would be a tremendous opportunity to continue to serve and protect not only the victims in my cases but all of Ventura County,” Nasarenko said. “Every day brings new challenges but also tremendous opportunity. We’ve been able to bring on a new domestic violence supervisor to achieve better supervision over those highly sensitive and potentially violent cases.”

Barrick said several things inspired him to seek the DA position and challenge Nasarenko, including a feeling that law enforcement officers are not given the respect they were in years past, which he wants to help change. 

“It seemed that everything in California has flipped to where criminals were now the victims and law enforcement were the criminals,” he said.

Barrick was also upset with politicians who passed laws favoring criminals, saying, “Political leaders in Sacramento were passing crime reform legislation that gutted the rights of crime victims.”

Barrick noted that every peace officer union in Ventura County has endorsed him in his race against Nasarenko.

“If you’re serious about protecting crime victims, the organizations that are on the front lines, actually fighting for crime victims and protecting them, is law enforcement. So if you’re a district attorney who’s committed to putting crime victims first, the cops are going to support you because you believe what they believe,” Barrick said.

Regarding his own endorsements, Nasarenko said, “I enjoy broad-based law enforcement support. Former DA Mike Bradbury, who held this job for 24 years, the Simi Valley Police Chief, David Livingstone. If you look at my endorsements, they’re broad based, and a true cross section of Ventura County. Bipartisan in nature, judges, labor organizations, the Sierra Club. Law enforcement as well as civic leaders. It shows a depth of support that reaches throughout the county.”    

Barrick said he never wants to be a career politician even though he’s currently running for office, and said Nasarenko might use his position as DA as a stepping stone.

“I don’t believe he has any interest in staying. I think his interest is in moving up and using the district attorney’s office as a platform and springboard into higher office,” Barrick said.

But Nasarenko said being DA is the best position he’s ever had and that he wants to keep doing the job.

“I have been an elected official for seven years and an appointed one for 15 months, so that hardly constitutes a career as a politician,” Nasarenko said. “Ventura County is my home. I love it here. My wife and I are raising our family here. My kids are in local schools. So this is where I intend to continue to serve and protect.”

More information on John Barrick at barrick4da.com.

More information on Erik Nasarenko at eriknasarenko.com.