- Jade Esteban Estrada
It’s an early Wednesday morning and I’m sitting across from Jacqueline “Jackie” Valdés, Democratic judicial candidate for the 386th Juvenile District Court, at the offices of Viva Politics. We’re only steps away from the Bexar County Democratic Party’s new headquarters on Fredericksburg Road. She’s wearing a beige wool sweater that complements her light brown hair and expressive hazel eyes.
Her demeanor is surprisingly serene for someone who recently launched her first campaign for public office.
Valdés is challenging incumbent Arcelia Treviño in the March 3 primary. Valdés says the sitting judge’s irregular attendance on scheduled court proceedings has left her no choice but to run.
When contacted for comment, Treviño said via a social media message that she’s “not quite sure why this prosecutor who was assigned to my court for a limited time in 2019” would make allegations about her attendance.
“When you are ready to write a story about my judicial work in the 386th District Court since elected, please feel to contact me,” she added.
While Valdés, 39, is new to campaigning, she’s not new to juvenile justice.
She began practicing juvenile law in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office in 2008. After a three-year intermittence in private practice, she rejoined the DA’s office in 2015. Currently, she serves as an assistant district attorney for the Juvenile Court.
Treviño defeated the highly endorsed GOP candidate Laura Parker as part of the 2016 Democratic sweep of local court races. Most Democrats rejoiced in the victories — a wide concession in light of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election — but in Valdés’ view, Treviño didn’t have enough juvenile court experience, even though she hoped the new judge would rise to the occasion.
But, this year, Valdés began hearing that Treviño wasn’t coming into work regularly. In May, Valdés was assigned to the court.
“I finally saw [her recurring absences] for myself,” she says. “It was disappointing to see that the one person who was supposed to be making the decision in court was clearly not dedicated and not accountable to the position.”
In August, Valdés decided to run against Treviño.
Valdés is married, works full-time and is a mother of five children, ages 5 to 19, so the life-altering decision took much deliberation, although she had a clear idea of what the job entails.
After all, Valdés mother, Maria Teresa Herr, was the district judge for the 186th Criminal District Court from 2002-2014. Her late father did political consulting work.
Growing up, Valdés had a knack for numbers and thought she would eventually become a math teacher. But, after earning her B.A. in mathematics from Trinity University, she opted for a switch and enrolled in the St. Mary’s University School of Law.
It was when she began work in the juvenile section of the DA’s office that everything seemed to click, both personally and professionally.
“It just answered every need that I had,” she says. “I’m with kids at work who really need direction, and I get to be around kids at home, so I feel full in that respect.”
Like many in the judicial community, Valdés doesn’t feel political affiliation should have any bearing on her work.
“I don’t want to say that I’m not a Democrat, or that those are not my ideals, but I don’t think that that bleeds into decisions that are made on the bench,” she says.
That’s especially true on the juvenile bench, because “the best interests of the child have nothing to do with whether the judge on the bench is a Democrat or a Republican.”
Arguably, Valdés’ close relationship with her mother offers her the advantage of a daily mentorship with a retired district judge who still visits the court from time to time.
“She’s always ready to be helpful in any way she can,” Valdés adds with a smile.
Valdés remembers being in first grade when her mother took the bar exam.
“She was so excited. I learned from her and watched her study,” she says. “We talked about the law all the time at home. She laid the foundation for a lot of what’s really possible.”
Valdés says time management is essential in her household. Her day starts with running and attending a gym class at 4:30 a.m. She credits her husband, Ed Valdés, who’s also an attorney, with helping keep the family on track.
“We manage to make it work,” she says.
Despite her family connection to the bench, Valdés says she never considered running for judge. She recalls her mom winning her seat by 93 votes after a lengthy recount — a memory that still brings a sense of unease.
“It’s not about me,” Valdés says with conviction. “It’s about what is happening right now in that court, [which] is very disappointing and, in my opinion, unacceptable. We need a judge on that bench that’s dedicated to juvenile justice, that’s accountable to this community and does what they say they’re going to do.”
Valdés adds that she would have supported any qualified candidate — regardless of party affiliation — willing to challenge Treviño. However, no one else stepped up.
“My mom kept telling me, ‘There’s going to come a day when you aren’t going to feel like you have a choice. Just trust me. I know that day is going to come for you,’” she says. “And that day really did come. The day came when I sat in court and watched what was going on and decided this was totally unacceptable.”
She pauses, then opens her palms towards me.
“And so here I am.”
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