July-August 2018

Hurricane Harvey regional training

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

When Hurricane Harvey ravaged our coastline, it was great to see Texas prosecutors reach out and help those who lost so much. Meeting those immediate needs was important to everyone. In the months that followed, it became apparent that something else got wiped out: the training budgets for offices along the coast. The good news is that training is what TDCAA does, and our TDCAA leadership is dedicated to meeting a need in our membership.
    To that end, on June 6, 7, and 8, three teams of trainers toured around Beaumont, Houston, and Victoria to offer regional training to those in offices who are strapped because of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation. The national acts were Pat Muscat from Detroit (he spoke on “The Visual Trial”), Ron Clark from Seattle (cross examination), and German Gomez from Washington, D.C. (implicit bias). I want to give a special thanks to Jack Roady, CDA in Galveston County, who spoke on forensic science, Jack Choate, Executive Director of the Special Prosecution unit, who presented on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and Stacey Soule, the State Prosecuting Attorney, who gave an update on the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. These speakers were terrific, and we hope to bring these presentations to all Texas prosecutors in the near future.
    I want to thank Harris County DA Investigator Paul Smithers and Key Personnel Wendy Strong, Victoria County CDA Investigator Bob Bianchi, and Jefferson County Assistant CDA Wayln Thompson for being our “away team” and helping with logistics. Finally, thank you to the Court of Criminal Appeals for supplying additional funding for this effort, and Jennifer Tharp, the Comal County CDA and current TDCAA President, for making a generous donation to the Foundation to support the training.   

Update on the SBOT disciplinary rules committee
In the last edition of The Texas Prosecutor, I wrote about the new State Bar of Texas Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda. I expressed concern that there were no prosecutors on the committee and that we were unclear about our ability to get in the room for the meetings.
    I still can’t tell you that we will be allowed in the room, but the Bar has offered some information about the committee’s work online and has established a conference call line so interested people can listen in to the committee’s meetings.
    Can you actually attend the meetings at the bar building and get an advance reading of potential rule changes that could impact prosecutors? Good question—for which I don’t have an answer today. But, if you are concerned and interested, I encourage you to keep an eye on the meeting schedule and call in next time the group gathers.  

Offices publish 2017 Annual Reports
In the past, I have lauded the Tarrant County CDA’s Office Annual Report, a great publication that offers good insights into the work of CDA Sharen Wilson’s office. The 2017 report highlights the office’s work in intimate partner violence and elder fraud, and it includes what is now my favorite section: the “year in review” highlight reel of their major cases. You can read the report online below.
    At the end of 2017, the Travis County DA, Margaret Moore, issued her first annual report. It is an intriguing peek into the office. For instance, there is a great graphic on just how they are spending their valuable jury trial time. No surprise, the report reveals an office priority on trying child abuse, murder, robbery, assault, and domestic violence cases. Margaret also uses the report to highlight important initiatives: conviction integrity, the civil rights unit, and training. You can read the report below, too.
    As you know, prosecutor offices are getting quite a bit of attention these days. That is a very healthy thing—the more your community knows about your work, the more confidence they will have in our justice system. So any time you can tell your story, whether it be by an annual report, an “animal club” lunch talk, a website, a tweet, or a Facebook post, it is to the benefit of the profession.  

Judicial Commission on Mental Health
In early January, the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals held a joint hearing to gather input on the need for and the priorities of a statewide judicial commission on mental health. On the heels of that hearing, the courts established the Judicial Commission on Mental Health to develop, implement, and coordinate policy initiatives designed to improve the courts’ interaction with—and the administration of justice for—children, adults, and families with mental health needs.
    The first meeting took place on May 15. There is one prosecutor on the 37-member commission, Harris County ADA Denise Oncken. Denise is the Chief of the Harris County DA’s Mental Health Bureau. The commission is in the early stages of its work, where it will develop a mission statement and strategic plan and explore opportunities for alignment with the goals and strategies of other stakeholders. The commission has its next meeting in Austin on August 10, and it has penciled in a summit in Houston October 22–23. If you want to follow the commission’s work, go to www.txcourts.gov/jcmh.  
The dean(s) of Texas investigators
In the past I have mentioned our longest-serving prosecutors and called them “deans” of the profession. It’s a completely honorary title, of course, but it is good to recognize people who have dedicated so much of their professional lives to doing justice in a prosecutor office.
    So, it is my privilege to recognize the dean of Texas investigators:  O.J. Hale, Chief Investigator of the 49th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Laredo. O.J. has 45 years as an investigator at that office, as well as earlier service as a police officer and detective at the local PD.  I must hedge a little bit, though, because I have also known Ted Crow, an investigator at the Lavaca County and District Attorney’s Office, for as long as I have been at the association. When I spoke with Ted about his tenure, he was a little hazy on his start date, but his years of service is in the 40s as well. Both O.J. and Ted should be rightfully proud of their service to the profession and to justice, and I am honored to be working for them! One question though: Have I missed someone with more than 45 years of service? Let me know!