Friday, July 17, 2020

This week’s deep thought: If Rice University can hold fall classes outside in big air-conditioned tents to limit the spread of the coronavirus, why can’t judges hold court outside? Perhaps something to consider, especially if there are hundreds of football fields around the state going unused this fall.

Primary run-off recap

The political parties have completed their dance cards for November (with one exception noted below). Here is the primary run-off run-down.

Texas Legislature
Four legislators lost their seats in primary run-offs: On the Republican side, State Reps. Dan Flynn (R-Van) (nine terms) and J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) (four terms) were defeated by candidates who ran to their right, while on the Democratic side, Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas) and Anna Eastman (D-Houston)—both of whom won special elections in January to fill open seats—were defeated without ever serving in Austin during a session.

Elsewhere, long-serving legislators State Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and State. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) survived primary challenges while one seat remains unresolved. In the race to replace the recently retired State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt finished with 49.6% (!) of the vote and is headed to a run-off against State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who garnered 34%.

As of now, there will be at least two new state senators and 15 new state representatives sworn into office in January. The big fight will come in November, however, when Democrats try to pick up enough Republican seats to take over the state House for the first time in 18 years. Let the games begin!

District Attorneys
34th DA (El Paso/Hudspeth/Culberson Counties, Jaime Esparza (D) retiring) (D): Yvonne Rosales defeated Asst. DA James Montoya; no R opponent.
53rd DA (Travis County) (D): Jose Garza defeated Margaret Moore (i); faces Martin Harry (R) in November.
Willacy C&DA (D): Annette Hinojosa (i) defeated former C&DA Juan Angel Guerra; no R opponent.

County Attorneys
Fort Bend County (Roy Cordes (D), retiring) (D): DFPS attorney Bridgette Smith-Lawson defeated Sonia Rash; faces Steve Rogers (R) in November.
Hunt County (Joel Littlefield (R), retiring) (R): Asst. DA Calvin Grogan defeated Scott Cornuaud; no D opponent.
Travis County (David Escamilla (D), retiring) (D): Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza defeated ACA Laurie Eiserloh; no R opponent.

Now that the primary election dust has settled, we know that 13 of 29 sitting prosecutors (45 percent) were defeated in their primaries (out of ~280 possible races on the ballot this cycle), and at least 25 new CAs and DAs will take office in January when other retirements, appointments, and open races are added up. Those new officeholders will include three former elected prosecutors and eight assistant prosecutors.

For what it’s worth, the past two presidential-year election cycles have seen 63 (2012) and 70 (2016) new prosecutors take office, so you can expect more change to come in November. However, our own internal research agrees with national research showing that sitting prosecutors are at much greater risk from a primary challenge—which they lose about half the time—than from a general election contest.

Sexual assault survey

In the past week alone, we received four requests to distribute surveys to you, our members. We normally decline to forward those out of respect for your time (you’re welcome!), but we want to be sure you are on the lookout for a state-sanctioned survey coming your way.

Next week you should receive an email inviting you to participate in a survey about the services that you provide to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The survey will focus on the resources you have on hand for that purpose, such as victim witness coordinators, local therapists, and other programs meant to help the survivors of such crimes. (It does not seek information about prosecutions.) This data is being sought by the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force created by House Bill 1590 last session, which is run by the governor’s office and includes Brazos County DA Jarvis Parsons as its prosecutor representative. Therefore, we respectfully recommend that you take the time to participate.

Early next week you will hear from Dr. Bruce Kellison of the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at the University of Texas with more details about the survey. If you have any questions, you can contact him at [email protected], or contact Rob at [email protected].

More polling results

For those who enjoyed our breakdown of a recent Texas voters’ poll in last week’s update, here is more food for thought on various police reforms from a recent Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler Poll.

Second TDCAA webinar now available online

The second in our new series of multiple presenter online courses, Caseload Management addresses what has been perhaps the most requested training topic from our membership. Dockets are getting larger, deadlines loom, and discovery is a constant complication, putting prosecutors at constant risk of drowning in a sea of cases. In response, our newest training module features experienced prosecutors from all over the state discussing the methods they employ to stay afloat. The fee for this course is $25, and participants will receive 1.75 hours of MCLE credit upon completion. For more details or to access the webinar, click HERE.

Looking ahead, be sure to keep at least one eye peeled for the 2020 Annual Conference brochure, which should hit your mailbox before the end of the month. This year of firsts will see that training offered entirely online, but we’re still going to deliver over 16 hours of quality, relevant, and timely continuing legal education to attendees, so be on the lookout for your brochure!

TDCAA coronavirus resources

Remember, all of our COVID-19 resources—including sample motions and orders, helpful information, and past updates like this one—are available at If you or someone in your office has something you would like to share with your peers, consider emailing it to Shannon for inclusion.

Quotes of the Week

“What’s happening now is the public is seeing what they haven’t seen in the past, and they don’t like some of the things they’re seeing. There’s a disconnect between what the public thinks the police ought to be doing and how the police are trained and are acting.”
            —Ron DeLord, longtime police union representative, quoted in a story on the potential impact of the new police accountability movement.

“It’s one thing for an officer to understand the actual complaint against him, and what the investigation’s about. That’s one thing. But what that’s evolved to is the requirement we let them look at what all the statements are, the evidence. That’s problematic, and we’re hoping to be able to change that in the next (legislative) session.”
            —Art Acevedo, Houston Police Chief, referring to the unique privileges given to his (and many other departments’) officers when being investigated for misconduct.

“She was arrested for … an alleged minor traffic violation. We want to be able to limit those types of interactions that could escalate unnecessarily.”
            —State Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), chairwoman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, on why she and other members of the Legislative Black Caucus will again advocate for various criminal justice reforms that were stripped out of the original Sandra Bland Act before final passage in 2017.

“There is probably not a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of being able to lower incarceration rates without increasing crime. It’s not as simple as ‘Just adopt a risk assessment and great things will happen.’”
            —Megan Stevens, law professor at George Mason University and author of a 2018 study of Kentucky’s use of mandatory risk assessments for pre-trial release.

“Clearly what happened is the bars, when they opened, did not comply (with social distancing protocols). In hindsight, it would’ve been quite a challenge for them to comply. We took a leap of faith on that.”
            —Dr. John Zerwas, former state representative and current medical advisor to Gov. Abbott, in an insightful Texas Tribune story about the successes and failures of the state’s re-opening (and potential re-closing).

“People are panicking thinking I’m about to shut down Texas again. The answer is no. That is not the goal. I’ve been abundantly clear. I’ve been saying exactly what the head of (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said today and that is if everyone can adopt the practice of wearing a face mask for the next four weeks, we will be able to get COVID-19 under control.”
            —Gov. Greg Abbott, in an interview earlier this week.

“Through our painful conversations with constituents, it is abundantly clear to us that the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 must be heavily reformed.”
            —From an open letter to Gov. Abbott from the Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of 11 Republicans in the Texas House who have been critical of some of the governor’s unilateral actions during the pandemic.

Until our next update, keep check our website and Twitter feed for the latest COVID-19 news.