Replicating the success of problem-solving courts

By Rob Kepple
TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

A childhood friend of mine grew up to be a scientist who works in pharmaceuticals. He has an amazing career with a big company, but he isn’t doing what one stereotypically thinks a Big Pharma chemist would do—he isn’t inventing great new drugs. Instead, he is doing something harder: He is designing the chemistry and processes that allow the new wonder drugs to be effectively replicated so that they are available to everyone at an affordable price.   

            I immediately thought of him when I read a recent law review article on the efficacy of specialty courts. A Virginia law professor published a provocative piece about the proliferation of “problem-solving courts” as a means to address crime and behavioral issues, such as drug addiction and mental illness. The professor argues that the effectiveness of these courts is underwhelming, inconclusive, or altogether lacking. An article about the professor’s treatise with a link to the work can be found at

            The question about the effectiveness of individual courts notwithstanding, I wondered about replicating success. What is successful, and how can it be replicated in a cost-effective way? We have all heard the call for reform and for a more effective criminal justice system, and it would be a shame if all we do is create some siloed programs that don’t have widespread application. Like the discovery of a new wonder drug, it doesn’t do that much good if we can’t replicate it at a price we can all afford.      

Thanks to 2019 TDCAA leaders

I want to take a moment to thank the TDCAA Board members who finished their service at the end of 2019. Our board is very active and keeps this organization moving forward. I am very proud to have worked with these excellent leaders: Comal County CDA Jennifer Tharp; Coryell County DA Dusty Boyd; Taylor County CDA Jim Hicks; and Ellis County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson, all of whom concluded their board service at the end of the year. Well done!

And welcome to our leaders in 2020

TDCAA held its annual business meeting in December and elected new leadership. It is a great group. Congratulations to the following folks, and thanks for stepping up:  Galveston County CDA and Secretary/Treasurer Jack Roady; Washington County DA and District Attorney at-Large Julie Renken; Fisher, Mitchell, and Nolan County DA and Region 3 Director Ricky Thompson; Jefferson County CDA and Region 5 Director Bob Wortham; and Bosque County Attorney and Region 8 Director Natalie Cobb Koehler.  

TDCAA committees

Our association is truly member-driven. That is especially true of our training and publications. We count on our active committee members to tell us what is needed, how it should be delivered, and who are the best presenters for the job. The four key committees for our training and publications are the Training Committee (designing most TDCAA seminars), Civil Committee (creating the Civil Seminar and the civil track at the Annual), Publications Committee (guiding and assisting Diane Beckham in selecting and writing TDCAA publications), and the Editorial Committee (assisting Sarah Halverson in producing this journal, The Texas Prosecutor). Below is a list of everyone serving on these committees in 2020—thanks in advance for the work you will be doing this year! 

Civil Committee
Russell Roden, Chair
Mary Baker
Deborah Bonner
C. Scott Brumley
Leslie Dippel
Constance Filley Johnson
Rebecca Lange
Holly Lytle
Anne Pickle
Larry Lee Roberson
Stephanie Stephens

Diversity, Recruitment, & Retention Committee
Jeremiah Varney, Chair
Isidro Alaniz
David Alex
Kay Taylor Crisp
Kenisha Day
Efrain De La Fuente
Alexandra Guio
Sunni Mitchell
Jarvis Parsons
Jamie Reyna
Tiana Sanford
Daphne Session
Kebharu Smith
Jeremy Sylestine
Erleigh Wiley
Patrick Wilson
Sharen Wilson

Editorial Committee
Mike Holley, Chair
Ben Kaminar
Xochitl Vandiver-Gaskin
Hilary Wright

Finance Committee
Jack Roady, Chair
Jaime Esparza
Erleigh Wiley

Legislative Committee
Staley Heatly, Co-Chair
Jennifer Tharp, Co-Chair
Isidro Alaniz
Jose Aliseda, Jr.
Elmer Beckworth
Dusty Boyd
C. Scott Brumley
Kenda Culpepper
Jaime Esparza
John Fleming
Philip Mack Furlow
Joe Gonzales
Lee Hon
Brett Ligon
Margaret Moore
Laura Nodolf
Kim Ogg
Jarvis Parsons
Julie Renken
Patrick Wilson
Sharen Wilson

Nominations Committee
Jarvis Parsons, Chair
Isidro Alaniz
Bill Helwig
Natalie Cobb Koehler
Landon Lambert
Tiana Sanford
Stephanie See
Leslie Standerfer
Ricky Thompson
Hardy Wilkerson
Greg Willis
Patrick Wilson
Sharen Wilson
Bob Wortham

Publications Committee
Alan Curry, Chair
Tom Bridges
Jon English
Justin Johnson
Emily Johnson-Liu
Eric Kugler
Daniel McCrory
Stephanie Stephens
Nathaniel Todd Wood

Training Committee
Tiana Sanford, Chair
Brian Baker
Allenna Bangs
Jennifer Falk
Jessica Frazier
Ralph Guerrero
Bill Helwig
Cyndi Jahn
Tanisha Manning
Sunni Mitchell
Kerri New
Kevin Petroff
Angelica Powers
Joshua Reno
Lauren Sepulveda
Sean Teare
Teresa Todd
Zack Wavrusa

Are you a rural prosecutor?

Hundreds of prosecutors attend the Rural Prosecutor Forum each year at the TDCAA’s annual conference in September. Our hosts for the forum, Mike Fouts (DA in Haskell County) and Mike Criswell (C&DA in Swisher County), invite everyone to reflect on whether they are truly rural prosecutors, as measured by things such as whether the Dairy Queen is the fine dining choice in town. Indeed, the issue of rural criminal justice has garnered increased attention by advocacy groups, as evidenced by the Southern Methodist University Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center having recently hosted two forums on rural issues and the criminal justice system.    

            But what is truly rural in Texas? At the last Deason Center session, there were folks from other parts of the country who apparently thought the cut-off was around 100,000 people, but no one had a solid figure in mind. Enter Texas Association of Counties (TAC). In the November-December 2019 edition of its magazine, County, there is a fascinating discussion of Texas: Is it urban or rural?  (Read it at County-Magazine/Nov-Dec-2019/Is-Texas-Rural-or-Urban.) Spoiler alert: TAC doesn’t offer a definition of “rural” either, but the article graphically depicts how population in Texas has shifted over time and where population is concentrated. It turns out that 18 state agencies have their own definition of what is rural. 

            But take a look at the maps in the article, and you will agree that if you live west of the I-35 corridor, you are probably in a rural jurisdiction. And according to 2018 data, 83.8 percent of Texans live in just 40 counties, and the sparsest 200 counties account for just 12 percent of the population.  That’s a lot of open space!

Congratulations to Erleigh Wiley

Congratulations to Kaufman County CDA Erleigh Wiley on her appointment to the board of the Crime Victims’ Institute. The Institute, housed at Sam Houston State University, was created by the legislature in 1995 to research the impact of crime on victims and to enhance the services available for them. Finally, part of its mission is to help give victims of crime a voice.  You can read more about the Institute at

State Bar Criminal Justice Section scholarships

As you all know, the State Bar Criminal Justice Section has been a great supporter of TDCAA. The Section has been instrumental in the production of our two online Brady courses and has supported prosecutor training with scholarships. Again this year, the Section is offering up to $15,000 in scholarships to various criminal law conferences, including the TDCAA Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update. Scholarships can be used for both registration and travel expenses. Find out more at The application deadline is Wednesday, April 15, so don’t wait if you are in need of funds to attend training.