You read that right. The 2017 Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update will be held at the San Antonio Convention Center on September 20–22, 2017. This is the first time we have been able to crack into the San Antonio convention market with our largest conference. It means that we will be able to hold all of the seminar’s tracks, meetings, and meals in one place, which has been a challenge as our membership grows. We will contract with a number of hotels within easy walking distance of the Convention Center so that attendees can leave their cars behind. In addition, the legendary Riverwalk will provide y’all with plenty of after-hours options.
Thank you for your service
It is with much appreciation that I thank the elected prosecutors who left their posts at the end of the 2014. I have personally witnessed every one of these individuals stand up and fight for the people of Texas and this profession, and they were impressive. Thanks to Rene Guerra (CDA in Hidalgo County); Trey Hicks (CDA in Caldwell County); Doug Lowe (CDA in Anderson County); Judge Susan Reed (CDA in Bexar County); Joe Shannon (CDA in Tarrant County); Joe Smith (CDA in Tyler County); Sherri Tibbe (CDA in Hays County); and Craig Watkins (CDA in Dallas County). The state has benefited from your service!
Welcome to the Class of 2015
With 335 elected prosecutors, our profession will always have new folks to welcome. (For a list of the folks who took office on January 1, 2015, see below.) Our job at TDCAA is to make sure prosecutors have what they need to do their jobs, and we are anxious to serve. And if you know one of the new folks or are a neighbor, I hope you will give them a call and welcome them!
New elected criminal district attorneys and county attorneys as of Jan. 1
Christopher Baran, CA in Young County
Lou Ann Cloy, CDA in Tyler County
Rebekah Gay Filley, CA in Lynn County
Baldemar Gutierrez, CA in Duval County
Judge Susan Hawk, CDA in Dallas County
Nicolas A. Lahood, CDA in Bexar County
Wesley Mau, CDA in Hays County
Allyson Mitchell, CDA in Anderson County
Judge Ricardo Rodriguez, CDA in Hidalgo County
Michael Paul Sales, C&DA in Crosby County
Fred H. Weber, CDA in Caldwell County
Judge Sharen Wilson, CDA in Tarrant County
Judge Robert Wortham, CDA in Jefferson County
$35 million in asset forfeiture funds for rape kit processing
In November Cyrus Vance, Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, made quite a splash when he announced that his office would dedicate $35 million in asset forfeiture money to test the national back-log of rape kits. It seems that every jurisdiction has found untested kits that are years, if not decades, old and with the burgeoning database of offenders’ DNA, someone finally snapped that it was time to test all the kits. In New York, for instance, it took four years to test 17,000 kits, with a net of 49 indictments of finally identified suspects.
The funds come from a multibillion-dollar settlement with a French bank for violating financial regulations. The first step in the process will be to confirm that no jurisdiction in New York has a rape kit backlog. Once that is done, a procedure will be mapped out for local law enforcement agencies from around the country to apply for funding. We will keep you informed.
Stash House Rewards Program
Something about the title of this new law enforcement program could be misleading to a drug dealer, but the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office has announced a new program you need to know about. The new Texas Stash House Rewards Program is designed to combat transnational crime by encouraging Texans to anonymously report information on stash houses used for smuggling drugs, illegal aliens, and trafficking victims. Under the program, Texas Crime Stoppers will pay up to $2,500 for information leading to those stash houses. If you want more information on the program, go to www .thetexascrimestoppers.org.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
This falls under the “thankless job” department, but it is pretty funny. Recently a defense attorney/blogger posted about what you’d think was a victory for him and his client. He blogged that in a pre-trial writ he challenged the constitutionality of the Texas online impersonation statute. He reported that the prosecutor agreed with him off the record, dismissed the case, and followed up with a less serious charge warranted by the facts. A win, right?
Not in the mind of this attorney. He crabbed on his blog: “What is wrong with these people? Doesn’t [the DA] have an obligation to defend Texas’s penal statutes against constitutional attacks? Do I have to notify the Attorney General to get some opposition? It looks as though I’ll have to go to some other county to get an appealable opinion upholding or striking the Online Impersonation statute.”
It is not often that a lawyer complains that a prosecutor isn’t charging his client with a serious enough offense. I can just imagine the reaction of the client if his lawyer had been successful in getting the prosecutor not to drop the more serious charge. “Uhhhhh, thanks?”
The blog posting does validate that unique facet of our jurisprudence that requires a case be in controversy before a court may rule on the validity of a law, thus shying away from advisory opinions. And it reinforces what Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”
Together for Safer Roads
It is not often that your business is impacted by something at the United Nations, but in November an interesting announcement took place at the UN that may be very good news.
On November 13 Anheuser-Busch InBev announced a new traffic safety initiative with some new partners: AIG, AT&T, Chevron, Ericsson, Facebook, IBM, iHeartMedia, PepsiCo, and Walmart. The new initiative is called Together for Safer Roads. Its purpose is to create an innovative coalition that brings together global private-sector companies to focus on reducing deaths and injuries caused by road traffic collisions. Why announce at the United Nations? Because traffic collisions are the eighth-leading cause of death worldwide and are expected to rise to the fifth-leading cause of global deaths by 2030. (Note that the world still has some more driving to do to catch Texas, where traffic collisions are the fourth-leading cause of fatalities.) You can read more about the program at www .togetherforsaferroads.org.
They have a pretty catchy slogan: “Let’s Drive Change.” And they hit the nail on the head when they observe that although death from disease gets the headlines (think Ebola), far more people are likely to suffer because of road traffic collisions.
Finally, you may recall that TDCAA had partnered with Anheuser-Busch InBev on three separate occasions to produce DWI Summits in Texas and nationally, under variations of the name “Guarding Texas Roadways.” These have been great training events using the communications networks of Anheuser-Busch (complete with its own communications satellite). Stay tuned—with this new initiative, we are in a position to announce a fourth DWI Summit in November 2015!
Are you being targeted?
Well, maybe. The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced that it had received a $50 million grant from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. The goal: to reduce incarceration by 50 percent in eight years.
Wow. That’s some goal to achieve in eight years. In the last decade many of you have worked with the Council of State Governments, the PEW folks, and others to develop diversion and other programs aimed at reducing incarceration in favor of “evidence-based” alternatives. Some great stuff has happened in Texas and elsewhere, and the work is continuing. However, I can’t imagine a program that can cut incarceration nationwide by 50 percent in eight years … that costs only $50 million dollars.
It appears that there may be a strategy change. Reports indicate that the money is not flowing to traditional efforts to lower incarceration rates through reduced recidivism, treatment, and “justice reinvestment” initiatives. The money is going to the political arm of the ACLU, which apparently has much more freedom to use it in a more advocacy-oriented way. It is reported that Anthony Romero, the Executive Director of the ACLU, promised to spend the money on advertising related to drug policy, mandatory sentencing, and prison re-entry. Furthermore, he promised to develop a state-by-state database describing who is in prison and then “target” local politicians and prosecutors who promote “over-incarceration.” (His words, not mine.)
Not sure what that means or what form that will take in Texas. But I doubt it means you will be getting additional drug treatment beds with any of these funds.
Hitler’s First Victims, and a courageous prosecutor
The Wall Street Journal recently wrote a book review of Hitler’s First Victims, by Timothy W. Ryback. I picked the book up at the suggestion of Bill Torrey, the County and District Attorney in Milam County, and couldn’t put it down. The story is about Josef Hartinger, a Bavarian prosecutor who sought murder indictments against some guards at a detention center. The guards were members of the Protection Squad-ron (Schutzstaffel, or “SS” for short.) In the spring of 1933. When Adolf Hitler had just become Chancellor of Germany. In a then-unknown town called Dachau. Oh, and a guy by the name of Heinrich Himmler was the Chief of the Bavarian Police.
So far so good, yeah?
You might imagine the case did not come off without a hitch. Or at all, because the government passed a law in August 1933 to discontinue all criminal investigations that could harm the reputation of the National Socialist Government. But Har-tinger survived the war, was absolved of any suspicion of complicity with the Nazi regime, and had a quiet if undistinguished career. With one important post-script revealed in the book: the work of that one prosecutor had a significant impact on the final resolution of the war crimes trials at Nuremberg.
The dean of Texas county attorneys
In the last edition of The Texas Prosecutor journal, we honored the dean of Texas district attorneys, Rene Guerra. At the end of 2014 Rene had served 33 years as the elected Criminal District Attorney of Hidalgo County, and that is quite an achievement. Bruce Curry, a DA in Kerr County, is the current Dean of DA’s at 30 years. I had asked if anyone knew who might be the longest serving of Texas county attorneys, and it looks like we have an answer. Drum roll, please.
The dean of Texas county attorneys is none other than Joe Warner Bell, who has ably served the citizens of Trinity County for 37 years. It is an honor to serve someone who has clocked nearly four decades of service to his community. Keep it up, Joe!