To top it off, she had never officially gone to law school.
But it didn’t stop her.
Deriso, who went on to lose to Freitag but later win Judge Larma Volk’s vacant seat in 2000, has a special kind of drive that kept her going — she loves people.
“When you listen and talk to people, it’s not a case anymore,” said Deriso, 2008’s Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction’s Judge of the Year. “I don’t judge people, I judge what they’ve done and it’s exciting when they succeed.”
Being no stranger to the court system, Deriso had worked for more than 18 years in the Reno Justice Court system, making her way to Chief Civil Clerk and becoming heavily involved and interested in civil issues.
“I knew I always wanted to do it (become a judge),” Deriso said. “I had talked about it for so many years until finally I decided to run.”
And she hasn’t looked back since.
Her typical case load in Department 1 of the Sparks Municipal Court reaches to more than 30 hearings a day, making her system the third busiest in the state. Deriso presides over everything from driving under the influence cases to domestic battery with occasional felonies in between, with a careful watch and even more meticulous eye for detail.
“We see a ton of cases,” Deriso said, explaining that if she is ever unsure about the slightest thing, she will take the time to recess and research the issue. “But it’s so exciting. Every day is different.”
Deriso, a sweet-natured woman with pictures of her sons and one of herself with Arizona Sen. John McCain sitting around her at her desk, truly loves her job and proclaims herself to be a “hugger.”
“I want to help people,” said Deriso, explaining that she has helped several defendants get their GEDs before. “I want to help them stay out of the courtroom.”
Given the state of the economy, case loads have gone up, particularly civil cases involving defaulted credit card payments and eviction hearings. She said civil cases in 2008 were up by 1,500 over the previous year.
“You have to look at the whole picture,” Deriso said. “People right now are just trying to maintain their lives, often it’s by a thread.”
Inside her courtroom, Deriso rules with an iron-clad fist, guaranteeing “you’re going to get from me what you give.”
“I treat everybody the same,” Deriso said. “And really, I work for the people of Sparks. For me, it’s their courtroom, as well.”
An issue that Deriso feels strongly about is working toward finding a more permanent resolution for repeat DUI offenders.
“There has to be a better way to stop people from drinking and driving,” Deriso said, tempering that by saying she truly believes in counseling, although it’s not enough. “When people have to pay all these fines, we’re setting them up to fail.”
Her commitments extend outside the court room as well, including but not limited to serving as president of the Sparks Sertoma, a service organization that promotes education in speech and hearing fields for youth, and serves on the committee for Spanish Springs High School Safe and Sober Night as well as for Koz’s Kids, a foundation dedicated to helping foster care and in-transition children.
“I love what I do,” Deriso said, attributing her success to fellow judges and mentors like Judge Kevin Higgins as well as her father and four sons. “I’m so lucky to be here and I love it.”