Executive Director's Report
September-October 2007

Judy Bellsnyder retiring? No way!

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

Way! Judy Bellsnyder, who has been a meeting planner for TDCAA for 10 years but part of the TDCAA family for more than 20 years, hung up her rooming lists and banquet orders on August 15. Judy’s immediate plans are to take care of grandkids, Claire, age 9, and Ally, age 31⁄2.

Those of you who worked with Judy at our seminars and events will miss her because she didn’t let you down—she had a way of always getting what y’all needed to make the training successful. When it came to working with a hotel or event center, calling Judy “hard-nosed” would be an understatement.

For us on the staff, we are going to sorely miss her energy, enthusiasm, and sense of mission. We will miss her attention to detail only slightly less, because that generally meant that we were required to check the alphabetized order of 1,200 Annual Update nametags five times to insure accuracy.

The good news is, you will see Judy at the Annual Update at the end of September, so please track her down in Corpus to say goodbye. Thanks Judy, it’s been grand!

Standing up for your office

Staring down your judge can be a little unsettling, but sometimes it’s your only option. I’m sure that’s what Cindy Stormer, Cooke County DA, thought when her judge issued blanket discovery orders in cases that, in her opinion, went too far. Discovery’s not a problem for Cindy, but y’all have seen discovery orders in the past that create work for the office, and it was becoming a problem.

So check the result of her mandamus at In re Cindy Stormer, No. WR-66,865-01, (Tex. Crim. App. June 20, 2007), at www.cca.courts.state.tx.us/ opinions/HTMLopinionInfo.asp?OpinionID=15584. In a per curium opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the district court had overstepped its bounds in a number of areas. First, the CCA held that a district court does not have the authority to order the State to disclose an expert’s qualifications, the subject of his contemplated testimony, and a report. Under Art. 39.14(b) CCP, disclosing names is fine, but the rest is not required. Second, the court held that the State was not required to produce all the arguably admissible res gestae statements, spontaneous statements, or other of the defendant’s utterances which the State intends to introduce in its case in chief, because this request would require the prosecutor to create a document that does not already exist. Third, the State cannot be required to produce a list of all tangible items of evidence with a notation of when, where, and by whom it was found.

A seemingly modest victory on paper, but y’all know that directly taking on your judge requires some resolve, and these discovery issues can really eat into your valuable time. Congratulations, Cindy.

Hunt for an innocent man

Sometimes standing up for your independence plays out on a national stage. Just ask Judge Susan Reed, the Criminal District Attorney in San Antonio, who was asked by anti-death penalty advocates to step aside in an investigation into allegations that Ruben Cantu had been wrongfully executed in 1993. Well, these people did more than ask—they even produced a brief signed by a bunch of law professors saying she had to.

Not persuaded by the opinions of a few in the academic community, Judge Reed did her job with the powers granted to her by the Texas constitution. Turns out all those claims of innocence fall a little short of impressive. You can read the district attorney’s report in its entirety at www.bexarcountydistrictattorney.org.

There are times when it might be tempting to step around something that looks like a mess, but it is gratifying to see a prosecutor sticking to her guns and doing the job she was elected to do.

At a crossroads early

Mike Jimerson is the first-term county and district attorney in Rusk County who faced a tough situation recently. A number of officers in a local police force were in some pretty big trouble for alleged official oppression, with indictments to follow. And those officers were the leads on a lot of Mike’s cases. Mike had some pretty tough decisions about how he was going to handle those cases and what expectations he would set for law enforcement in his community.

In my opinion, Mike chose the option that sets a tone of integrity and independence early in his tenure. He sent a letter to all of the criminal defense attorneys with cases on Rusk County dockets alerting them of potential credibility issues with the officers in question and notifying them that all cases which relied substantially on those officers’ testimony would receive a thorough review. If a particular case relied in whole or in substantial part on that officer’s testimony and there was insufficient corroboration, the case would be tanked.

It took a couple days for someone to share that with the local papers, and now everyone in the community knows what kind of shop Mike will be running in the future.

Legislative Update highlights

By the time you read this column, we will have almost completed our 2007 Legislative Update tour. If you attended this training, you know that this year’s offering was pretty meaty: a lot of new laws to digest in one sitting.

The highs from our side of the presentations? The wide-eyed looks from people (especially defense attorneys) as we outlined the changes to sex offender statutes. What brought the most guffaws from the audience: the change that legalizes carrying a weapon in a motor vehicle in many circumstances. The most popular change: making first-offender DWLI a Class C misdemeanor. (Sometimes it’s the little things.)

And the favorite PowerPoint slide of all: the Trunk Monkey, Chaperone Edition, a GMC TV commercial that brought laughs all around. To see all of the Trunk Monkey offerings, just go to www.trunkmonkeyad.com.

Riding into the sunset

Literally. Our long-time leader and friend Al Schorre, the district attorney in Midland for over 22 years, retired on June 30 to move to Colorado. Al’s not retiring, though. He’s got a lawyer job that will require him to ride the circuit between places like Aspen and Steamboat Springs. We will miss him around here, and I’d wish him luck—but it sounds like he’s already got a good dose of that!

Welcome to the trade!

We’d like to welcome Judge Charles Campbell to the ranks of prosecution. Judge Campbell, a former judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, was appointed by State Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Van Horn as the Special Assistant State Prosecuting Attorney.

We’d also like to welcome John Radcliffe as the new acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, taking up where Matt Orwig left off. John had previously served as the first assistant U.S. attorney and the chief of the anti-terrorism unit for the Eastern District, so he hits the ground running.

And good luck to Matt, who has been a friend to state prosecutors during his tenure. He is relocating to Dallas, where he will practice with the law firm of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal L.L.P.

Student loan forgiveness inching forward

We continue to get promising reports out of Washington, D.C., that the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2007 continues to make progress. We have been told that in July, the act found its way into the Higher Education Reauthorization Act via an amendment.

I’d be lying to you if I told you I understood how this thing is moving in D.C. or what will happen next. But it is good to see this problem get the attention it deserves, and even if the Texas “three session rule” applies (the rule of thumb that any idea worth its salt takes three legislative sessions to pass), this is really good news. Thanks to the National District Attorneys Association for its lobbying efforts on this bill’s behalf.

A new dean of prosecution?

A couple years ago I wrote that it appeared that Tim Curry, our CDA in Fort Worth, was outdone in terms of years of service only by Howard Freemyer, the Kent County Attorney, who has served for 37 years.

But it looks like they are both just babes in the woods compared to A.J. Hartel, our Liberty County Attorney. We have learned that A.J. began his service on January 1, 1965, which pegs him at over 42 years of service to the public. Impressive!

Because our electronic database is of recent vintage and relies on the self-reporting of service information prior to 2000, we will hold off formally awarding A.J. a valuable prize (to be determined later) until y’all have had a chance to challenge his service record. So, anyone out there willing to take him on?