With 30 years of experience prosecuting and defending juvenile cases, Peggy Jessel of the Boulder County District Attorney's Office knows a thing or two about the system.

Now, the chief deputy of the DA office's juvenile division will be lending her insights to a state committee charged with examining how kids are treated by the courts.

Jessel was appointed to the interim committee to study legal defense in juvenile proceedings, a committee tasked by a joint resolution in the Colorado House of Representatives with examining aspects of juvenile court and the rights of the young people who enter it.

State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder -- one of the sponsors of the resolution that created the committee -- said she approached Jessel about being on the committee because of her extensive background.

"I have known Peggy's work regarding juveniles in the justice system for quite a while, and she's brought a very multidisciplinary approach to the DA's office in dealing with young people who get involved in the legal system," Levy said.

Among the issues Jessel will be tackling as part of the committee are how quickly attorneys should get involved in juvenile cases and how to handle cases when the best interests of the young person and his or her parents may be at odds.

"The committee is concerned with the quality of juvenile defense because there are a lot of competing interests," Jessel said. "Of course, there are the parents and guardians, the teenagers, the various agencies trying to help keep the families together and the community. So where does due process fit into that scheme?"


Jessel also said the committee will look at whether public defenders who deal with juvenile cases should be more specialized, as opposed to juvenile court being one assignment in a rotation or a starting point for new defenders.

"There is a high turnover of representation, and these kids could see three or four lawyers in a few months," she said. "Who do they form that trusted bond with if their attorney keeps changing? They're not going to open up, they're not going to talk about what they need with someone who has no idea who they are."

Stability is also a key issue on the prosecution side of juvenile cases and was the reason Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett created a specialized juvenile case team.

"My feeling is that the prosecution of juveniles is really a specialty that requires a different skill set than the prosecution of adults," Garnett said. "It's complex and nuanced and requires people who really understand the dynamic of juvenile delinquency and are dedicated to becoming experts of it."

Garnett said he worked with Jessel -- who at the time was in private practice -- while he was on the Boulder Valley school board and asked her to head up the juvenile case division in 2009.

"She's one of the most experienced juvenile court lawyers in the entire state," said Garnett, adding that Jessel is also on a national committee that looks at juvenile issues. "I'm proud of the work she's doing, and a lot of other people are taking a look at her to see if they can improve."

Jessel said her years of specializing in juvenile cases and her time working as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney in those cases lends her a unique perspective.

"I think what I bring is that 360 view, and I am very cognizant of kids' due process rights and make sure that they use that right to counsel," Jessel said.

Susan Caskey, director of IMPACT, a multi-agency Boulder County team aimed at helping at-risk youth and families, said Jessel's involvement has helped make Boulder County one of the leaders in dealing with juvenile cases.

"I do think it's fairly unique to have the DA's office involved in the way they are in Boulder," Caskey said. "It's not something they have to do, but they see the benefit for the kids and community ultimately of being a partner in collaboration."

Jessel said juvenile cases are special to her because she knows there is a chance to do more than prosecute a case, but to get to the underlying issues surrounding it.

"We are not a production line. We don't just file the charge; we find out what else is going on," Jessel said. "I want to see our numbers of kids going into the adult system coming down, and so does the state of Colorado, and I think that's what we are doing and that's my goal.

"There's hope; that's what drives me to it and keeps me going."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329 or byarsm@dailycamera.com.