Victim Services
May-June 2022

Introducing the Key Personnel–Victim Services Board

By Jalayne Robinson, LMSW
TDCAA Victim Services Director

At 2021’s Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinator Conference, board elections were held for the South-Central (Regions 4 & 8) and East (Regions 5 & 6) Areas. Sara Bill with the County & District Attorney’s Office in Aransas County was elected as the South-Central Area representative, and Teri Rose of the County Attorney’s Office in Chambers County was elected as the East Area representative. Katie Etringer Quinney of the 81st District Attorney’s Office was elected as Chair.

            Recent appointments to the Board include Lori Zinn as the West Area (Regions 1 & 2) Representative; Casey Hendrix (Region 6) and Dana Bettger (Region 8) as the Designated VAC Representatives; and Meredith Gross (Region 6) as the Designated KP Representative.

            The KP–VS Board assists in preparing and developing training and educational programs. Regional representatives serve as a point of contact for their region. Below I have included an introduction and photos of the 2022 Board.

Katie Etringer Quinney, Chair

I have been the VAC for the 81st since January 2017, when I left my profession of over 10 years in medical marketing to pursue my passion as a victim advocate. A member of my family was a victim of a crime in 2006 and upon completion of prosecution of that case, I felt the need to make a difference. I started by participating in victim impact panels; I am a founding Board Member for the Children’s Alliance of South Texas, a Child Advocacy Center, since 2012, and I have testified before the Corrections Committee of the House of Representatives on behalf of my family and other victims whom I have served. Since coming to work for the DA’s Office, I have helped numerous victims of felony crimes across the five counties of the district, including the victims of the tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs. I am proud to say that I have presented at several TDCAA events, sat on the KP–VS Board since November 2019, and currently serve as the Chair.

Ebonie Daniels, North Central Area (Region 3 & 7) Board Representative

This is my second year as a member of the KP–VS Board for Region 3 and 7. I have worked for Wichita County for almost two years. I was also a VAC in Washington State. Victim advocacy is near and dear to my heart. I have been able to apply my experience and knowledge in Wichita County to better serve victims and to partner with the community. I look forward to continuing serving on the TDCAA KP–VS board and assisting new and old VACs in any way I can.

Casey Cave Hendrix, Designated VAC Representative from Region 6

I graduated from the University of North Texas with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. I am a nationally credentialed advocate and I have been designated to be a Comprehensive Victim Intervention Specialist. I am honored to work for a boss who cares deeply about helping victims, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, and I am currently assigned as a VAC in our Crimes Against Children Division. In the past I have assisted in all divisions within our office, including Felony Trial Team and our Domestic Violence Unit. I am looking forward to serving as the Designated VAC Representative for Region 6.

Dana Bettger, Designated VAC Representative from Region 8

I am a new TDCAA KP–VS Board member for Region 8. I have been a victim advocate for 22 years working with victims of crime. Throughout the years I have always felt that community networking, training, and sharing re- sources and knowledge with other agencies and professionals are a very important part of our profession. Not only does it benefit the victim and families we work with but also each other. I currently work at the Bell County District Attorney’s Office and manage the Victim Services Section. I am very excited and want to say thank you for the opportunity to be able to serve as a board member for the KP–VS Board and I am looking forward to being able to learn from and share knowledge with each of you.

Adina Morris, Designated KP Representative from Region 7

Hello everyone, I am one of the designated KP representatives on the KP–VS Board. I have been employed with the Palo Pinto District Attorney’s Office (Region 7) for 12 years, serving as the VAC and for the last five years as the VAC and Office Administrator. I previously served on the board in 2015–2016, and as the Chair on the TDCAA KP–VS Board for 2017. It is an honor to be a representative on the board again.

Teri Rose, East Area (Region 5 & 6) Representative

I am the newly elected KP–VS Board member for Regions 5 and 6. I have been working in the County Attorney’s Office in Chambers County for eight years and currently serve as the executive assistant and VAC for our office. I moved into the position of VAC beginning in 2021 and have utilized my new position to expand the victims assistance resources throughout our office and county. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve on the board and excited to assist in planning future conferences.

Lori Zinn, West Area (Region 1 & 2) Representative

I am the newly elected KP–VS Board member for Regions 1 & 2. I have been working in the County & District Attorney’s Office in Lamb County for seven years and have served as the VAC for our office for six years. Our previous VAC, Laney Dickey, continues to inspire me to excel and serve our victims well. Our office strives to empower victims and seek justice for them. I am truly grateful and excited to once again serve on the board and look forward to meeting many of you.

Meredith Gross, ACP, Designated KP Representative from Region 6

I have the honor of serving as the designated KP Representative Board Member for Region 6. I have been with the Rockwall County Criminal District Attorney’s Office for 15 years. In that time, I have held many positions in our office and am currently the Senior Administrative Coordinator, serving as paralegal and assistant to our District Attorney, First Assistant, and Civil Division Chief. Additionally, I supervise all staff, including the clerks, VACs, Discovery, and Trial Support Divisions. I hold advanced paralegal certifications in Trial Practice and Criminal Litigation, and I was recently inducted into the Texas Board of Legal Specialization for Criminal Law. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the TDCAA Board and excited to assist in planning training opportunities.

Cynthia L. Jahn, CLA, PVAC, KP–VS Board Training Committee Liaison

I have been a member of the TDCAA KP–VS Board for several years and was fortunate enough to serve as the first president for the VAC Board when it was created in 2000. I currently represent the Board as the Training Committee Liaison and am honored to serve the TDCAA membership as a Board member and trainer. I have worked for this office for 31 years, serving under the administration of four different DAs. I am proud that over the years my office has continuously worked toward being victim-centered, striving to provide the best possible services to victims in our community. Our program has continued to grow over the years, and we currently have 57 people serving in our Victim Assistance Unit. I am excited to continue my work with TDCAA to train service providers and serve victims.

Sara A. Bill, South Central Area (Regions 4 & 8) Representative

I am the newly elected KP–VS Board member for Regions 4 & 8. I am also the victim assistance coordinator for Aransas County in Rockport. I have worked as a VAC and Director of Victim Services for 22 years serving Calhoun, Victoria, and Williamson Counties before joining Aransas County in September 2021. I developed victim service policies and procedures at each agency and am very proud of the advancements to ensure victims’ rights are afforded. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve on the KP–VS Board and am excited to assist with planning future conferences.

Amber Dunn, immediate past Chair

I started working for the Denton County District Attorney’s Office after completing an internship here in the Family Violence Division my last semester in college at the University of North Texas. I then worked my way up to the position I hold now. I am blessed to serve this office and have served it for over 21 years. I consider it an honor to be a Felony VAC for the last 13 years, and I hope to continue serving the victims of Denton County for many more years to come. I have been a member of the KP–VS Board for several years and in 2021, I was the elected Chair of the Board; this year I am in an ex officio position as the immediate past chair. I am also a member of the newly formed Denton County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). I am looking forward to seeing how this team approach with SART will better help our victims of Denton County.

Required notification of scheduled court proceedings

Crime victims have a number of rights as set out in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) Chapter 56A. Prosecutor offices are charged with affording crime victims their rights along with the requirement to provide several notifications as set out in Subchapter J (Required Notifications by Attorney Representing the State).

            In this article, I will specifically cover CCP Art. 56A.452, the required duty a prosecutor’s office has to crime victims regarding notification of any scheduled court proceedings, changes in the schedule, and the filing of a request for continuance of trial setting; I’ll include a few tips from of our KP–VS Board members on how their offices comply with this statute.

            I hear questions about the requirements all the time from VACs across the state: What if we cannot reach the victim by phone? What if the mailing address has changed? Our caseloads are huge, and the court dockets are forever changing, so how can we accomplish this task?

            The answer is communication—the act of giving, receiving, and sharing information. Communication is a basic human need. During this difficult time in their lives, many crime victims are just waiting for communication from someone in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, due to the mere nature of the system, by the time the prosecutors have received the case, it may have been quite a while since crime victims have heard from anyone about the case. Victim assistance coordinators’ (VACs) communication with crime victims builds an important rapport. VACs’ continued communication throughout the pending case will, we hope, assist victims with resources and services and lead to victim cooperation down the road at court time.

            During the pending stages of the case, victim assistance coordinators contact crime victims to ask:

            •          What is the victim’s current address and contact information?

            •          Is the victim willing to cooperate and testify?

            •          What does the victim want to happen with the case? VACs talk with victims about their wishes for case disposition but make no promises on an outcome of the case; and

            •          Does the crime victim request notification of future court settings and case information?

            Once we have the answers to these four questions, VACs should then offer referrals and resource information and discuss the victim information packet that they will soon receive by mail. VACs should then mail the information packet to the victim to comply with CCP Art. 56A.451. Simply mailing a victim information packet to the last known address is not always an ideal practice. If VACs cannot reach a victim by phone, go ahead and mail a packet with a cover letter that includes the VAC’s name, address, and phone number, and document any attempts to reach the victim by phone.

            All information gathered during VACs’ interactions with crime victims should be relayed with their prosecution team, whether it be by email, the office database, or a note for the case file. Check with your office to see what form of documentation the prosecution team suggests.

            To meet notification requirements, many prosecutor offices have specific procedures in place to comply with CCP Art. 56A.452. TDCAA’s Key Personnel–Victim Services Board members were gracious to share their offices’ procedures and tips on how to comply with the statute.

Lori Zinn in Lamb County

Working in a small office helps because prosecutors will usually inform me if they have made an offer in the case involving a victim. I work closely with both court coordinators to set hearings and plea dates. When I speak with victims where felony charges are filed, I inform them that we have a docket the second Thursday of the month and they are free to call the day after for any updates if they do not hear from me first.

Ebonie Daniels in Wichita County

Court administrators usually send the docket for each court the week before, and I go through that to see what is upcoming. After grand jury, I always contact the victims and I sign them up for VINElink and keep record of their PIN numbers. I also keep an Excel spreadsheet of cases that I need to maintain track of and follow up with the victims. The “tasks” function in Outlook is very helpful as well. I create a task if I need to follow up or complete something for the victim.

Casey Cave Hendrix in Collin County

When I speak with victims the first time, I give them a rundown of what they will see when they pull up the case online. I explain what announcements, appearances, and status hearings are; in Collin County there might three or four of those hearings before prosecutors know if the case will be set for trial or not. I also inform victims that there will be periods of waiting, and that is normal. If they question anything they see on the docket or are asked to be at a hearing from someone other than our office, then I tell them to please reach out.

            The biggest thing is transparency and explaining the “unknown” parts upfront—that allows the nervousness that surrounds hearings and court dates to ease a bit.

Dana Bettger in Bell County

In our office, the VACs have their own dockets in Excel with their cases on it that they keep track of. It has all the cases that require notification by law and the ones that victims want to be notified of. We have many cases that do not require notification, but victims want to be notified. This Excel document allows us to check our own docket and update it as needed. We also receive notices from the court that allow us to update our dockets daily. We sort our docket by date, and that way have the most recent cases that need notification on the top and can check a week or two ahead of time.

            As each VAC receives a new case, we add them to our dockets. (I assign cases by DA number, not courts or prosecutors.) Same goes for when a defendant has been sentenced—we delete them off our docket. This has worked great for us and keeps cases current and updated.

Teri Rose in Chambers County

The system that works best for me is simply notes on the outside of the file. After docket call, those files are brought to me instead of filed away. I then contact the victims and inform them of the case’s status, or I will sign them up for the victims’ options class we have. I am currently the only VAC in our office so a simple system keeps everything organized.

Amber Dunn in Denton County

We notify our victims at many different stages throughout the process. We start by reaching out to sexual assault victims with a letter once we get the case and it is in our Intake Division where it is prepared to go before the grand jury. We then call the victim if it ends up being no-billed, or we send a victim packet for them to fill out and return to us if the case gets true-billed and the defendant is indicted. This packet also includes a Crime Victim’s Compensation application.

            At this point, prosecutors bring us cases as they start working on them to have us contact the victims to get their feelings on the cases. After they are contacted by phone, they might need a meeting where the victim, or victim’s family in a death case, come in and meet us in person as we discuss the case in more detail.

            Finally, the day comes where it is set either for a plea hearing or a jury trial, and we then contact the victim about that date. We VACs accompany the victim or their family to the courtroom. I personally keep track of things set on the dockets by writing it down in my calendar in pencil unless I know for sure that the victim or the victim’s family is going to be here; then it is written in red. If the note is in pencil, I make one more call closer to the date to check in and find out if the victim or their family wants to be here and give a statement. We also let victims know that they can follow along on the internet to watch for the upcoming court settings and if they have any questions, they are always welcome to call. Our victims always have my contact information if they ever want to call or email me in between our normal notifications.

Adina Morris in Palo Pinto County

At the beginning of the month, I run a docket for the month, and at that point I check the cases scheduled to see who I need to contact. I can run these myself, but in your office you may have to request it.

Sara A. Bill in Aransas County

After cases are submitted to our office and entered into our system, they are given to me to make initial contact with victims by telephone. If I am unable to make contact, I send a letter asking them to contact me. The initial contact is to introduce myself, provide the victim a status of the case and possible outcomes, and gather their thoughts and views on the matter. At this time, I discuss the Victim Information Package, Victim Impact Statement, and Crime Victims’ Compensation. I also inquire how they would like to receive the documents and future communications (via mail or email).

            After a case has been indicted (felony) or a complaint has been filed (misdemeanor), the case is again given to me to notify victims. I will send out the Victim Information Package. This serves a dual purpose: Victims receive information about their rights, the impact statement, and compensation, and my cover letter informs them of upcoming court hearings. I use this same process when cases are disposed.

            My procedures for continuing to keep victim informed is to track the court dockets. I usually send hearing notices after the cases have been reset. Additionally, I encourage victims to call or email me for status updates. This helps me maintain contact with victims who require more frequent contact. Both work with paper and paperless practices.

Victim services consultations

As TDCAA’s Victim Services Director, my primary responsibility is to assist elected prosecutors, VACs, and other prosecutor staff in providing support services for crime victims in their jurisdictions. I am available to provide training and technical assistance via phone, by email, in person, or by Zoom. I can tailor individual training and group trainings specifically for your needs. The training and assistance are free of charge. Are you a new VAC? This training would be perfect for you!

            To schedule a free consultation, please email me at Jalayne.Robinson Many offices across Texas are taking advantage of this free victim services training.