President's Column
January-February 2024

It’s a wonderful life, and what we do matters

By Erleigh Wiley
TDCAA Board President & Criminal District Attorney in Kaufman County

It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie most of us have seen and rewatch each holiday season. As I watched the movie again last month for the hundredth time (it seems), I still felt bad for poor George Bailey. I’ve seen the movie enough to know that it all turns out all right, but you cannot help but empathize with Jimmy Stewart’s character, who is frustrated with his life’s circumstances. George, like many of us, from time to time thinks that what he does may not matter.

            But not long ago I was reminded how very important our jobs are. I sat with a presenter at a recent event. I had no idea that her daughter was a survivor of physical abuse and that she had been in our office regarding her daughter’s case. She shared with me her heartache and feelings of failing her daughter, whose abuse happened at daycare. This mother had not understood why her daughter was being clingy—until the 4-year-old told her she was being hurt at “school.” My staff of concerned victim assistance coordinators made the referral for counseling, and she had attended. She said she had forgiven herself, and she thanked me for all that my office had done for her. What would have happened to that family without concerned advocates?

            And what would happen to victims of crime and our community’s safety without each person’s role in a prosecutor office? Every single person is important!

            The support staff assist attorneys and law enforcement, often behind the scenes. They are the masters of scanning, saving, and producing masses of evidence. They comply with discovery demands in a timely manner, and without them evidence would not be introduced into court. What would happen if evidence was not prepared for admission in a criminal prosecution?

            Civil practitioners represent our county, elected officials, and commissioners court (thank goodness). Without them, our counties would not operate as efficiently. Road work, resolutions, and reviewing legal documents are standard practice. If these matters weren’t handled by our hard-working civil practitioners, how would that impact other elected officials and our communities?

            Trial prosecutors handle hundreds of cases from indictment to disposition. With the type of cases and the volume of them, the legal work can be overwhelming, but prosecutors continue to keep working—alongside our investigators. Investigators assist prosecutors by tracking down witnesses, serving subpoenas, and interacting with our law enforcement partners. Every day prosecutors and investigators are on the front lines with victims and their families. They represent the state and county, advocating for the survivors who would not have a voice in the legal system without them. What happens to those victims, families, and our communities if we do not prosecute?

            So, though I am no Clarence (the Christmas angel), I would like to remind those in TDCAA’s service group—everyone in a prosecutor’s office—that what you do matters. Lives are forever improved because of what we do. When tough days hit and you wonder why we do this job—and we all have those days—remember that we’re all in this together, and we are making a difference in people’s lives.

            Hope your holidays were blessed and wishing you a wonderful new year!