Douglas County DA again criticizes plan to resume jury trials, takes issue with how judge communicated to her

photo by: Journal-World file photo

Pictured at right is Suzanne Valdez, Douglas County district attorney. At left is the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

For the second day in a row, Douglas County’s district attorney took exception to a plan to resume in-person jury trials, and this time the new DA said some of the communication on the topic bothered her as a woman.

Suzanne Valdez issued a statement Tuesday saying she wanted the public to understand that Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria did not “consult” with her about a plan to resume jury trials in April. Rather, Valdez said she was “told” of the plan by McCabria.

“There is a clear difference between being consulted about a matter and being told something,” Valdez said in the statement. “As a female attorney and former law professor, who has mostly been told — not consulted — about matters from men in authority in the legal profession. I must point out the meaning of these two words matter to me.”

McCabria on Tuesday said he did not have any further comment on the matter beyond what he told the Journal-World on Monday. In that statement, he said he had personally talked with Valdez on Dec. 18 at an open house that was designed to get feedback from members of the Douglas County Bar Association about the plan to use the county fairgrounds as an alternative courtroom location. McCabria said she expressed no concerns about the venue. McCabria said he also personally met with Valdez and two members of her office in March to further discuss the plan to resume trials in April at the fairgrounds.

While he did not offer additional comment on Tuesday, McCabria did provide the Journal-World with copies of emails between him and Valdez that arranged for the two of them to meet in March about the jury trial plan and its use of the fairgrounds.

But in her statement on Tuesday, Valdez said the two hadn’t actually met about the issue.

“Chief Judge McCabria did not ask for my input regarding the April jury trial plan,” Valdez said in the statement. “To suggest that he and I met personally or consulted about the jury trial plan, or that he invited or asked for my or my office’s input is simply false.”

The Journal-World late Tuesday afternoon asked a spokesman for Valdez to clarify why she said the two had never met on the issue. Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden said Valdez’s statement that she and McCabria had not met to discuss the “jury trial plan” was in reference to the jury trial schedule that was released in December. The statement she sent out, however, did not make that point. Seiden said the schedule was released on Dec. 7 and given to Valdez without her input.

Both instances in which McCabria said he met with Valdez took place after Dec. 7.

The emails provided to the Journal-World show that Valdez requested the March meeting with McCabria. However, in his statement to the Journal-World on Monday, McCabria never said he invited Valdez to that meeting. Rather, he simply said he met with Valdez and members of her staff in March about the issue.

Valdez has objected to jury trials resuming again in April because she thinks it is imprudent to have such in-person events “during a pandemic when a large majority of the Douglas County community has not been vaccinated.” She also objects to using the Douglas County Fairgrounds as a temporary location for trials because it does not have the same security measures as the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

It is the court system’s decision on when to resume jury trials, but attorneys can raise objections as part of individual cases and “they will be fully heard on those matters,” McCabria said on Monday.

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