Stevens Joins Douglas County Juvenile Court Bench

Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Mary “Peg” M.Z. Stevens puts on her robe with assistance from her children during an investiture ceremony in the Legislative Chambers of the Omaha-Douglas County Civic Center on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (Photo by Scott Stewart)
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The Douglas County Juvenile Court recently welcomed Mary “Peg” M.Z. Stevens to the bench.

Stevens was appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to fill one of the vacancies created by the departure of former judges Douglas F. Johnson and Elizabeth G. Crnkovich. The governor also appointed Amy Schuchman, whose investiture will be held at a later date.

“On behalf of Judges Kelly, Kahler and Brown, I welcome you to our bench,” Juvenile Court Judge Vernon Daniels said, adding as a joke: “In fact, we’re so happy to have you here that we have arranged for 400 cases to be transferred to you, and they should be arriving in your chambers about this time. Judge-designate Schuchman, don’t worry, we have an equal amount for you in a couple of weeks.”

Stevens’ investiture ceremony as the state’s 21st juvenile court judge was held last Friday, Jan. 3, in the Legislative Chambers of the Omaha-Douglas County Civic Center. A reception then followed at the Durham Museum.

Sarpy County Juvenile Judge Lawrence D. Gendler said Stevens was his “godsend” when they worked together in the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office.

“I was with her during her first deposition. I was with her during her first trial. I was with her when she testified before the State Legislature for the first time,” he said. “There were a lot of things that stood out about her. She was a wonderful listener. She had all the trial skills necessary to be successful. And for me, she’s been a wonderful friend.”

Stevens escorted Gendler down to the State Capitol when he interviewed to become a judge. He said he appreciated being able to share remarks at her investiture.

“I am thrilled that this appointment occurred,” he said.

Daniels said Stevens comes to her new chambers well-prepared.

“You’ve served as a probation officer. You’ve headed the Juvenile Division in the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office. You’ve served as a special prosecutor and defense attorney for both children and parents, and you’ve served as guardian ad litem for both, and you have handled many divorces, adoptions and guardianships,” Daniels said. “In each area of your service, you did not just carry a file, you worked the file. You always found the juvenile arena worth of study, service and a good use of your time. I, and others, have observed a person who took the time to learn the many nuances of juvenile law.”

Stevens said she feels extremely grateful for all the support and encouragement she received.

“It is my prayer that all those blessings will be released back to you in return,” she said.

She remembered her grandparents, who were farmers. Her grandmother had three master’s degrees and was the first woman in Illinois who was allowed to return to teaching after she got married and after having a baby.

“They repealed laws for her,” Stevens said. “I have some amazing women behind me.”

Growing up, Stevens said she learned every problem has a solution, but you have to keep exploring until you find it. You can’t ever give up, she said.

“Every moment is a learning moment, so you’re learning as you go,” Stevens said.

While working in Sarpy County, Stevens watched children become retraumatized by repeated interviews with law enforcement. Stevens led the effort to create the first multidisciplinary investigation team protocols in the state.

“The result of that was legislation that gave every county the opportunity to have multidisciplinary investigation teams,” she said. “Eventually, it evolved into Project Harmony, and that is one of the things I’m most proud of.”


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