Meet Juvenile Court Judge Valdez
Meet one of Utah's Juvenile Court Judges: Judge Andrew Valdez,
a Juvenile Court Judge in Third District
Ever been in Judge Valdez's courtroom? Ask a few kids who have and they'll probably tell you about how he gave them a lecture or even locked them up in detention. But is Judge Valdez really the ogre that everyone says he is? Read through this interview and you may be surprised to learn a few new things about the Judge...
Q: What is your average day like?
A: My typical day consists on average of 25-30 hearings involving either delinquent kids or abused and neglected children - kids brought to the court for protection. These kids range in age from infants, for example, last week we had babies that were two days old that were born full of meth and heroin - they range from those infants to 17 year old homeless and abandoned children.
If you have 30 hearings a day that means dealing with 30 sets of parents, probation officers, therapists, psychologists, agency representatives, and relatives. So our day is pretty full. Our days are emotionally wrenching sometimes. By the time they get to the juvenile court these kids are in crisis.
I set my cases in 20 minute intervals, so every 20 minutes I have a case, that isn't enough time when you're dealing with people's lives and oftentimes we run out of time.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a juvenile court judge?
A: I think the most rewarding aspect is that you do get the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. If you do make a difference in the life of a child or a family, that potentially impacts future generations as well. What I try to do is change belief systems. I try to get young people to understand that they're not going to get away with criminal behavior. Also, we're there to teach them behaviors such as responsibility and discipline - behaviors that hopefully will have occurred during their upbringing. But a lot of these families are in such a dysfunctional state that these learned behaviors haven't been taught. We try to teach them so these kids can pass on these good habits to the next generation - to their kids.
I think the rewarding aspect too is the connection to the kids. I love kids. I enjoy working with children and young people. And I feel that I've been blessed with this opportunity to make a difference in people's lives.
Q: Why did you choose to go into the field of law?
A: I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little boy. I was a shoeshine boy - I was on the streets. I was impressed with lawyers. They dressed nice. They carried themselves well. They were lousy tippers but they used to be very friendly with me and I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little boy.
I was a criminal defense lawyer for almost 12 years. After 12 years of practicing in the adult criminal justice system I felt that I wasn't making a difference. I wasn't reaching people early enough. I was basically getting folks at the tail end of their criminal careers because I was a homicide and felony defense counsel. In order to make a difference I had to get to people earlier, and the juvenile courts were the place to be.
Q: If you could clear up one misconception about either yourself or the juvenile justice system, what would it be?
A: I think the misconception about me is that I'm hard, that I'm tough and that I don't care. I give these kids my heart and I am hard on them, and I feel that I am firm, but I'm also very fair. I have kids who succeed because of that. And on the other hand, I have kids who resent and reject that. There are different reactions to my personal style. But those who have influenced my life have been tough on me. They held me to standards and expectations they felt I could achieve.
The other misconception would be that this is an easy job. It's not an easy job, it's very difficult to sit in judgment. Also, it's very difficult to deal with broken homes and broken lives hour after hour after hour. It takes it's toll on you.
Q: If you could give on piece of advice to kids in the community, what would it be?
A: Don't give up. Pick somebody you look up to and try to emulate that person. Choose good friends and role models. And regardless of what your circumstances are, there are opportunities for people, it doesn't matter what background you're from: whether you're brown, you're black, you're poor, rich, tall, short, fat, skinny, ugly, handsome. Life is about opportunities and you can't miss opportunities. One of the number one influences in young people's lives is friends, peer approval, peer pressure. Choose good friends, pick someone you look up to and try to emulate that person. Don't ever give up.
Number two, don't let anyone count you out. You're the one who chooses who you want to be and what kind of person you want to become. You choose who you are and what you want to become. Don't let anyone else do that for you.
Q: If I have a friend who's getting into trouble, what should I do?
A: If you have a friend who's getting into trouble, you should get some adult advice. There are ways to help this friend. It's hard for kids to help kids and sometimes kids will only listen to kids, but you should get adult advice. Either go to your parents, your teachers or counselors, somebody who can give you a different way of looking at it, a different direction, and also help you with this friend.
If you're having problems at school - with bullies or with drugs - let's get some adult help. That's another opportunity that's out there - there are people who are out there who will help and are willing to help.
Click here to return to "Before Court: An Introduction to the Juvenile Justice System"