It may be months before jury trials can be held in Liberty County due to COVID-19, but there is still much work to be done now, according to new District Attorney Jennifer Bergman.
Officially sworn in on Monday, Jan. 4, Bergman has had little time to settle into her first-floor office at the Liberty County Courthouse. She’s been busy trying to get organized and learn more about her staff. Bergman says she also is concentrating on learning the processes the DA’s office uses to look for ways to improve and be more efficient.
With jury trial cases still on hold until March at the earliest, Bergman said new cases continue to come in from law enforcement agencies. Many of these will be presented to a future grand jury.
“We don’t know when we will actually be able to be in trial again. In the meantime, we are preparing so we will be ready when that time comes,” Bergman said. “The Office of Court Administration is limiting the number of in-person hearings that we can have. They have further restricted us. I have a feeling, based on the way things have gone, that it will be after March, maybe the beginning of summer, before we see an ability to have jury trials again.”
Last year saw a high number of murders in Liberty County with suspects arrested in almost all of the cases.
“We are trying to get those murder cases ready for trial. Prosecutors are also trying to work out cases with defense attorneys and we are having plea hearings,” Bergman said. “Our office’s main goal is to pursue justice. We will uphold the law, and criminals will be held accountable for their actions. There is an accountability that comes from making bad decisions and going against the laws.”
Fair treatment is what people can expect from the DA’s office, according to Bergman.
“Everyone will be treated fairly. I have done that my entire life. No one is above the law and no one is better than anyone else,” she said.
As Liberty County’s first female district attorney and currently one of the youngest district attorneys in the entire state of Texas, Bergman is keenly aware of the honor that was bestowed upon her by Liberty County voters.
“It really is an honor that the people of Liberty County put their trust and faith in me to be their district attorney. The importance of this position is of such a great magnitude that it is overwhelming to me at times that they trust me to this extent. I will strive to do a great job and make them proud,” Bergman said.
Bergman is the third generation in her family to hold public office. Her late maternal grandfather, Harold Rhoden, was a Pct. 3 commissioner for Liberty County. Upon his death, Rhoden’s wife, Marcelene, was appointed to his seat. She also successfully ran for the position in the next general election and won, making her the first elected female road and bridge commissioner for Liberty County. Now deceased, Marcelene held that position until her retirement. Bergman’s father, Louis, served on the Cleveland ISD board of trustees.
Prior to becoming DA, Bergman had a private law practice in Cleveland where she handled criminal, civil and family law cases. She earned her undergraduate degree at Trinity University in San Antonio and her law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. She was licensed by the State Bar of Texas in 2008 and opened her practice in Cleveland. Additionally, she was the prosecutor for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, a position she resigned in late 2020 after being elected as district attorney.
“I helped the Tribe start the prosecutor’s office. In 2014, they had a newly adopted criminal code and hired me to prosecute cases,” she said.
Closing her practice was the hardest part of the transition to DA, but with her mentor and fellow attorney, Dana Williams, taking over, she believes her clients will be in good hands.
“It says a lot when your mentor takes over your practice. Dana is the judge at the Tribe and has a law practice in Livingston. She is who I look up to and has been practicing law for 25 years,” Bergman said.
The DA’s office also has two new assistant county attorneys – Mark Boemio, who previously worked for District Attorney Robert Trapp in San Jacinto County, and Nicole Washington, who previously worked for District Attorney Lee Hon in Polk County. Bergman also has a new chief deputy, Dawn Moody, who helped run Bergman’s law practice in Cleveland. Three assistant district attorneys who remained from the previous administration are Steve Taylor, Kayla Herrington and Kevin Barnes.