Justice Lidia Stiglich ’95 Brings Compassion to the Bench

  • Alumni

Right after passing the bar exam, Lidia Stiglich ’95 had to choose between two passions: the law and softball.

She played the sport competitively throughout college and law school, was a member of a women’s major league team, and tried out for the Summer Olympics. In 1996, a dream came true: She was invited to play in the Pan American Games. Another offer soon followed: to join the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. Stiglich opted for the latter.

“The universe was talking to me,” she recalled. “I hadn’t totally broken my face playing ball, so it was time.”

Her career choice bore fruit. Last November, Stiglich became the first openly gay justice to be appointed to the Nevada Supreme Court. Previously, Stiglich spent four years as a district court judge in Nevada’s Second Judicial District.

“I’m so grateful and humbled and feel such a sense of responsibility here,” Stiglich says. “I’m here to do good things, and I’m here to serve.”

Stiglich knew she wanted to be a lawyer since she was a kid growing up in Pittsburg, California. Her mother was a secretary for the local public defender’s office, and she spent a lot of time in courtrooms. “I loved the compassion, the eloquence, and the theater of the law,” she says.

Stiglich majored in business administration at UC Berkeley, then went straight to UC Hastings. She enrolled in a criminal law clinic at the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, completed an externship at the First District Court of Appeals, and edited the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly. After graduating, she spent five years as a public defender before starting her own firm, Stiglich & Hinckley. In 2008, she moved her practice to Nevada and eventually served as special counsel to Nevada Lieutenant Governor Brian K. Krolicki. When she became a judge, she took a people-centric approach.

“When I got to the bench, I wanted to be the judge I’d want to appear in front of. I want to give people a voice, their day in court,” she says. “People are much less outcome-driven than most would think; they’re really process-driven.”

Soon after becoming a judge, Stiglich noticed that a number of defendants in criminal cases were dying of overdoses. She cofounded the Youth Offender Drug Court to serve as an alternative to incarceration for young people addicted to opiates, and served as presiding judge. Some of the young people that appeared in her courtroom still text her with updates.

“It was probably the best thing I did on the bench,” she says. “The court provided an opportunity for people to get treatment and get out of the system as opposed to getting back on the treadmill.”

In the current political climate, Stiglich feels a renewed commitment to her role. “I’m proud of the judiciary and the lawyers out there fighting the good fight in matters big and small,” Stiglich says. “This branch is the last safe place, the last bulwark against some of the crazy that’s going on in the world.”

While Stiglich says she doesn’t focus on her path-breaking appointment as the first openly gay justice, she does take being a role model seriously. “I want to serve as a success story and inspiration: You don’t have to trade personal happiness for professional success,” she says. “If people see it, they will think, ‘I can do that, too.'”