By Brian Klas
TDCAA Training Director in Austin
The last time I wrote an update on TDCAA training, I laid out our plan for the first part of 2021.
Any number of things are supposed to happen when you make plans—God laughs, faces get punched, and even the homes of mice are destroyed. Still, you have to make a plan, but any good one has a secondary option for what to do when the initial plan fails. Thanks to the professionals I work with here at TDCAA and a succession of skilled presenters willing to take on the training challenge, we are about where we planned to be. (Really, a huge thanks to all the Texas prosecutors who delivered hours of training to the cold eye of a camera lens!)
At present, you should be able to go to tdcaa.com and watch the last two conferences that were switched from live courses to online ones. Crimes Against Children is one of them; it will be available to watch online until the end of May, and the other is the Civil Law Conference, which will be posted for viewing until the end of June. That is, unless something changes between the time I wrote this column and when it arrives in your mailboxes. If that is the case, know that my fallback plan is to embody the shruggie emoji. What are you going to do, right?
Back to in-person courses
Fate tempted, let’s look at how we are planning to transition back to live conferences. (Just note that online training is not going away, and I’ll make sure and update y’all on those plans in a future article.)
Elected Prosecutor Conference. Our first live event in over a year will be the Elected Prosecutor Conference in June, which is a makeup of the conference we would have held in December 2020. That 2020 Elected Conference was the first booking that we believed we had enough information to postpone rather than simply cancel. The makeup event will be at a hotel on the San Antonio River Walk, and as I write this, it is available for registration on our website. While this course targets the elected portion of our membership only, it does illustrate a major pandemic transition issue. That issue is capacity. We set an attendee limit for this conference that allows us to meet certain spacing guidelines. In fact, the capacity was so severely limited for this course that we are essentially conducting the conference twice in one week so we can serve as many attendees as possible. Due to the length and structure of most of our conferences, that doubling will not work for other live courses. As I said, the order of the day is cautious optimism: My belief is that we will be able to expand capacity and dining limitations as time passes.
Prosecutor Trial Skills Course. The Prosecutor Trial Skills Course (PTSC) is the second live offering of the summer. It is scheduled here in Austin July 11–16. I expect to open this course with a limitation on capacity as well, so check our website for expansion news. We had to cancel two PTSCs (July 2020 and January 2021), and I know that means a backlog of attendees. I hope we can catch up and eventually get everyone into this foundational training. Some of you may have attended the online Fundamentals of Prosecution Course back in January. While PTSC covers many of the same topics as that course, the PTSC focus is much more on courtroom action, and though there may be some overlap in content, the live experience cannot be replicated online.
Advanced Trial Advocacy Course. Two weeks after PTSC, we plan to offer our Advanced Trial Advocacy Course. Attendance is by application only and it is normally limited to 32 attendees. This year, maybe fewer than 32. Traditionally, we hold the course in Waco at the Baylor Law School, and the week is split between lectures over a singular type of case and courtroom exercises relating to an actual case curated by the course director. Courtroom work is filmed and critiqued by experienced faculty. If you are serious about developing trial expertise, this is the course for you.
Baylor has consistently been an ideal partner for this course. Right now, officials at the school need to make sure they can safely host events, and we are waiting to see if and when they are able to get campus operations up and running. If all goes according to plan (see?), the topic for Advanced will be adult sexual assault, and the course director will be Allenna Bangs, an ACDA in Tarrant County. Brochures (with applications) will be available online and in your mailbox in the coming weeks.
Investigator Conference. Originally scheduled for February 2021, we will host this course in Rockwall August 9–12. The jury is out on capacity limits, but we will have all that information available on our website when registration opens. I know that TCOLE credit has been tough to come by this last year, as TCOLE does not allow credit for online training, so we are diligently working to get as much of our investigator membership into this course as is safely possible. Rest assured the Investigator Board has done a great job planning the curriculum, and there will be something on the agenda for all DA or CA investigators no matter how they are assigned. If you are new to the world of prosecutor office investigation, make sure to enroll in the one-day New Investigator School, which we host alongside the rest of the conference.
Legislative Updates. Mid to late summer of a legislative year, like this one, is when we typically hit the road for Legislative Updates. Our biggest change for 2021 is with these courses. For a host of reasons, including the very up-in-the-air nature of the legislative session, we will produce an online Legislative Update rather than visiting 20-plus cities around the state for in-person conferences like we normally do. We have only two live Legislative Updates planned: One is tacked onto the end of the Investigator Conference, and the other is just before the Annual Conference in Galveston. As usual, these courses require separate registration.
For those of you who need TCOLE credit, we are still unable to give TCOLE credit for online training. (If that changes, it will be very clear on our website.) For now, to receive credit for attending our Legislative Update, you will need to attend a live conference.
Annual Criminal & Civil Law Conference. The return to planned normalcy culminates with the 2021 Annual Criminal & Civil Law Conference. We’ll be in Galveston from September 22 to 24. In years past, I’ve wanted to shake up the way we deliver Annual content, do something a little different. But this year, expect a glorious return to all the usual Annual training and events! We’ll have a rural prosecutors’ forum, a juvenile prosecutors’ forum, a meeting to discuss diversity in prosecution, a reception or two, and a whole bunch of training options. Along with the aforementioned Legislative Update, we’ll have a special domestic violence course at the beginning of the week. Both will require separate registration.
If you told me this time last year that I would be only cautiously optimistic when planning in-person courses for the summer of 2021, I would have called you a lunatic. And I know that offices all over the State are returning to trying cases, and the case backlogs may feel backbreaking. But here we are, right?
Getting back to normal may end up being twice the work that adapting to the pandemic ever was. We want to help you however we can. Remember that TDCAA is your service organization. If there is any way that we can assist you in your mission to see justice done, please don’t hesitate to reach out.