By Rob Kepple
TDCAA Executive Director in Austin
If you do, I want to hear about it. What do you like about it? What makes it interesting to you?
Here’s why I’m asking: The association operates on a series of five-year, long-range plans. The plans address governance, training, resources, and technology. One of the action items from the 2016 plan is for TDCAA to develop distance learning opportunities for prosecutors and staff. The goal is not to replace existing face-to-face trainings, as those continue to be very valuable. Instead, we need to supplement and complement the training that already exists with distance training that is timely, relevant, and accessible.
One idea on the table is to create a bank of short videos on our website that assist criminal and civil practitioners in all aspects of your jobs. Never done a motion to revoke probation? Go watch the 10-minute clip on how it’s done. Never impeached someone with a prior inconsistent statement? There’s a five-minute clip on the TDCAA website on just that topic. The list of topics valuable to civil and criminal practitioners would be endless. Others have offered another intriguing idea. Why doesn’t TDCAA produce a podcast? Many of y’all already listen to podcasts at work or on your daily commutes, so why not package case summaries, important legislative updates, and other timely information in an audio format?
The training committee and TDCAA leadership will be discussing options for distance learning in earnest this year. As we explore this idea, we need your help. Please email me at Robert [email protected] with your favorite podcasts and what you like about them. If TDCAA offers a podcast in the future, what would you like to hear about? And please suggest any catchy intro music you think would be good.
The 2019 Annual conference
I want to thank the dozens of presenters and staff for once again hitting it out of the park at our Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update in Corpus Christi. The quality of the training was outstanding. Thanks to TDCAA’s training team, Brian Klas, LaToya Scott, and Andie Peters, and the rest of the staff, for putting together another high-quality conference. I knew it was going well when the last presenter, George Brauchler, a district attorney from Colorado, finished before a still-packed room at 12:15 p.m. on Friday—and he couldn’t leave for another 30 minutes for all the questions.
A highlight of the Annual conference for me is the recognition of some outstanding prosecutors and staff. Not all the association awards are presented at the Annual, but we honored four outstanding people on our opening day.
District Attorney in Brazos County
The State Bar Prosecutor of the Year Award is reserved for a prosecutor who improves the quality of justice through his leadership and/or efforts to shape public policy. This award, although designated by the State Bar as a “practitioner of the year award,” contemplates that a prosecutor may also be recognized for a body of work or activities that may span more than a single year. It is reserved for someone with devotion to the profession and who aspires to be a true example of a “minister of justice.” It can recognize all efforts to improve the criminal jurisprudence of the state, whether it be through developing novel theories of prosecution through trial and appellate advocacy, creating and implementing innovative investigation and prosecution techniques, affecting positive change at the Texas Legislature, making significant contributions to the profession of prosecution through training and support of other prosecutors, or spearheading new programs and services in the community at large.
Jarvis Parsons was honored this year, and he is richly deserving of the recognition. Jarvis has been a true engine of innovation and change since he was elected DA in 2012. Besides being active in TDCAA training and leadership, he ably represents the profession as part of the Texas Forensic Science Commission and as a board member of the Texas Council on Family Violence. Jarvis is an innovator: He created the Cut It Out program to educate hair stylists on the signs of domestic abuse, and he has worked with a number of prosecutors and other professionals to develop TDCAA’s groundbreaking training on cognitive and implicit bias. At home, Jarvis continues to try cases and serves his community in a number of ways, including as a board member of the local Children’s Advocacy Center and the sexual assault resource center. I feel a little tired just writing about all that Jarvis has accomplished in service of the profession. Congratulations to a very deserving prosecutor!
District Attorney in Ector County
The Lone Star Prosecutor of the Year Award is intended to recognize the efforts of a prosecutor, including a civil practitioner, who demonstrates excellence through trial advocacy, appellate advocacy, or other government representation that a person in a district or county attorney office may perform. This award is designed for those whose work may otherwise go largely unnoticed but who significantly advances justice in his community or the state.
Bobby Bland was presented with the 2019 Lone Star Prosecutor Award at the Annual Update by John Dodson, Secretary-Treasurer of the TDCAA Board. For years, Bobby has been a quiet workhorse for the profession, leading the Foundation’s efforts to grow, and even spending weeks at the capitol mired in legislative meetings and negotiations on important issues such as the journalist shield law (at one point compelling us to send his wife flowers because he was trapped in the capitol for about a week!). But perhaps his most impressive yet largely unrecognized work has been this year, by providing closure to more than 60 victims of Samuel Little, one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history. From the very beginning, Bobby’s focus has been on “the big picture of justice,” not simply justice for the victim and her family from Ector County. His efforts with law enforcement officials and victims from all over the nation have allowed 60-plus unsolved murders to be solved and the victims’ families to receive some closure.
Soon enough, the whole country will get to see Bobby’s work! Keep an eye for an upcoming episode of “60 Minutes” for a story on Samuel Little. Bobby (and others) were interviewed for it in early October, and we can’t wait to see how well he represents Ector County and Texas on the national stage.
Director of Victim Assistance in Bexar County
The Oscar Sherrell Award is given for service to the association. It is awarded by each section (attorneys, investigators, and key personnel) and the TDCAA staff, and it recognizes those enthusiastic folks who excel in work for TDCAA. It may commemorate a specific activity that has benefited or improved TDCAA or may recognize a body of work that has improved the service that TDCAA provides to the profession.
This year we were delighted to recognize Cyndi Jahn as a winner of the 2019 Oscar Sherrell Award. Cyndi has worked in the Bexar County DA’s Office since 1991 and has served as the director of victim assistance since 1999. When it comes to the development of TDCAA services for crime victims and witnesses, Cyndi has been a powerful and energetic voice for victim assistance coordinators and key personnel. We here at TDCAA World Headquarters have come to rely on Cyndi anytime we need help on difficult victim issues, and she has never said no.
Thank you, Cyndi, on behalf of all of us here at TDCAA—and the association at large!
Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County
The C. Chris Marshall Distinguished Faculty Award recognizes outstanding service as a teacher and trainer for Texas prosecutors and staff. This award can go to any prosecutor, staff member, or allied professional who has demonstrated a sustained commitment to training and educating those in the profession, whether it be through teaching, publications, one-on-one technical assistance, or a combination.
Sheri Culberson is this year’s C. Chris Marshall Award winner. (Tiana Sanford, Chair of TDCAA’s training committee, presented it to her.) Sheri has a passion for training. TDCAA is fortunate to have some of the best trainers in prosecution, but Sheri holds a special place among them. No matter the assignment, she always answers the call. The combination of her skills as a presenter and experience as a prosecutor make her an effective trainer on subjects as varied as plea bargaining, domestic violence, evidence collection, crimes against children, and good old trial advocacy. She is among a select group of trainers who have continually delivered to further TDCAA’s training mission. These folks elevate the profession of prosecution by being part of it, and that’s true of Sheri too.