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An unfortunate letter raises questions about justice and class

The parents of Jordan Valdez sent an unfortunate letter to friends and family asking for help when their teenage daughter faces a judge next month.

You would think the case of the cheerleader who hit a homeless woman and drove away could not spark more outrage. But in the face of that tragedy, her parents wrote that they're worried about her college options and said the story has been unfairly spun as "a class issue."

As if this latest debate on how justice can change depending on who you are could be anything else.

According to the criminal charge, the 16-year-old junior from the Academy of the Holy Names was driving a Nissan Murano home to Davis Islands from cheerleading practice in February when she hit a homeless woman on a dark street and drove away. (Could I have loaded anything more into that sentence to insinuate "privilege"? For the record, Valdez has been described as a quiet student with good grades, a future and parents who worked hard for what they have.)

At a hearing Nov. 24, Valdez is expected to plead guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal crash. Prosecutors aren't asking for prison, which is reasonable given the circumstances. But Robert and Kimberly Valdez had another worry in their letter asking supporters to write the judge beforehand: If she is sentenced as an adult instead of a juvenile, it might hurt her chances for college, not to mention a Bright Futures scholarship.

Which, for many of us, is not a top 10 concern for this case.

Some history: After investigators first linked the car to the crash, a lawyer hired by the family said his client wasn't talking. Police had no one to independently identify her as the driver. She got a ticket for careless driving, a stern lecture from a detective and the case was "administratively" closed. Later, her lawyer even got the ticket dismissed.

Not until the story made news was the felony charge filed.

It is not a crime to be able to afford good lawyers or to protect your kid. Parents who have read about Valdez are probably asking themselves what they would do, not to mention what they wouldn't.

Like me, maybe you wish the minute her parents learned of the crash, they drove her straight to the police station. With a lawyer, even.

Valdez's father did call police and leave a message once the family realized the car was gone and had been impounded by police and after his daughter said she had been in an accident. But by the time police got to his office, he was taking his lawyer's advice to not say anything.

In their letter, the Valdezes say the victim's family is in their thoughts and prayers. They also say their daughter should be punished, and they want her to grow and learn from this.

But about that media spin turning this into a class issue.

This case made news only because a reporter happened to be talking to a homeless man for another story. He asked about Missy Sjostrom, his friend killed on the street. He wanted to know about charges that never came.

The issue of class starts to figure in when you wonder if a kid from public housing — or even somebody homeless like Sjostrom — would have fared the same at the beginning. Especially if you believe the answer could well be no.

An unfortunate letter raises questions about justice and class 10/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 12:18am]

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