By Brian Klas
TDCAA Training Director in Austin
If you are an avid reader of previous Training Wheels columns (hi, Mom!), you know that much of TDCAA’s training is driven by the course evaluations and training questionnaires we collect at our many events across the state. After reading a few thousand of those forms, I’ve seen certain trends show up. None of you will be surprised to hear that new prosecutors request training to help them manage “humongous” dockets. Other than suggesting that you dismiss all odd-numbered cases, there isn’t much TDCAA can do for you. (Please don’t do that.) Efficiency and speed come with experience, so the best way to manage giant misdemeanor dockets is commit yourself to mastering your profession—and that means more TDCAA training and a continued devotion to the vocation.
Aside from concern over large criminal (criminally large?) dockets, I see a ton of comments with a desire for more advanced training. “I thought the talk was a little basic,” “I would like more advanced topics,” “It needed a track for more experienced prosecutors,” or some variation of the same are all responses that I’ve read multiple times after a conference. Here’s the thing: I love getting feedback from attendees. I know that whoever wrote such a comment wanted something different from what he got. I also know that the commenter believes that whatever he didn’t get both exists and requires some background to understand. I know that when attendees write these suggestions, they know what they meant, but I’m not sure what they meant. There aren’t two Codes of Criminal Procedure, one for new prosecutors and one for advanced prosecutors; there isn’t a way of conducting voir dire that we switch to after our 50th jury trial; and experienced prosecutors aren’t issued special rings that give them access to a secret cache of helpful caselaw.
Glib responses aside, it is my job to figure out what training you want and deliver it, and I need your help.
Scratching the “advanced” training itch is something that the entire TDCAA training team and training committee are committed to. Stealing a thought from W. Clay Abbott, TDCAA’s DWI Resource Prosecutor, I believe that more often than not, what our attendees are asking for is really more specific training. You want to hear analysis on a singular portion of the code, ways to address narrow situations on voir dire, and a deeper dive into certain caselaw. If the issue, then, is moving from generally discussing a topic to covering specific components of that topic, tell me what those components are. Again, I want to deliver the most necessary and relevant training I can. To do that, I need to know where the gaps are. What new defense theories are you seeing? What line of cases are giving you trouble? What criminal justice issues are you interested in? If you are able to answer those questions, you will be the architect shaping the future of TDCAA training. Yes!
Don’t worry—we aren’t sitting back waiting for you to do all the work with your input. There are a lot of training opportunities for all you salty prosecutors out there. At the obvious end of the spectrum is our yearly Advanced Trial Advocacy Course. It happens every late July or early August in sunny Waco. We can accept only 32 attendees, but those people will enjoy a week of training narrowly tailored for a specific case type. It is an opportunity for good prosecutors to become great.
Additionally, we offer two specialty schools every year (in April and June). At these schools, we present a broad mix of topics both for newer and more experienced attendees. You will definitely hear some things you have heard before—that is the nature of professional training. Much of the advanced training at these schools comes from your peers. The questions people ask, the discussion in forums, and the networking with other prosecutors and office staff all are ripe opportunities for professional development.
I’d also invite you all to look for training in the cracks of these presentations. For instance, I will never skip a voir dire talk—I don’t care what the overarching topic is. Advocacy talks are just as much about the presenter as the subject matter, and TDCAA’s presenters are some of the best prosecutors in Texas and by extension some of the best in the country. Different speakers can deliver the same content in entirely different ways, and I have never failed to learn something during one of these presentations. The principle is no different from advising prosecutors to watch one another in trial.
For our non-prosecutor members, we have annual seminars devoted to training just for you with our Investigator School and KP-VAC Seminar (online registration now open!) And for everyone, there is the Annual Criminal & Civil Law Update every September. The Annual conference has six tracks and will always feature advocacy training, and we are increasingly adding topics that are of particular interest to anyone working in the criminal justice field.
The TDCAA training team exists to make sure our membership has access to the most timely and relevant training possible. We cover a lot of bases, but I know that we can do more. I encourage everyone in our membership to become part of the training. Let us know what you need. Let us know what you are interested in. Do you have a wacky idea for future training? Let me know and I promise not to ridicule your wacky idea. If it is really wacky, like incorporating a puppet show at trial, I may reference it anonymously.
Whether it is by course evaluation, email, letter, or comment during a break, tell me what you need, and I will do my best to deliver it.