Executive Director's Report
January-February 2010

National Advocacy Center back in business

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

Some good news from the National District Attorney’s Association. The National Advocacy Center (affectionately known as the NAC) has received $1.175 million in federal appropriations for 2010. That means the NAC is once again open for business and is accepting applications for winter and spring courses.

As you know, the NAC puts on great courses at the Ernest F. Hollings National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina. This new funding allows the NAC to continue to significantly subsidize your travel and subsistence while at the course. You will get up to $550 in airfare; lodging at the NAC; and breakfast, lunch, and snacks during the day. To review the courses and apply, visit www .ndaa.org. There is an allotment of slots for each state, and the NAC is asking that no more than one application per course be submitted from any given office.

Federal student loan ­forgiveness is funded

I put this headline second because this is great news, but I didn’t want anyone to get too excited just yet. The John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Loan Repayment Program has been funded to the tune of $10 million. That’s good because now the feds can design the mechanism for distributing the funds. But it’s also not so good because $10 million is not likely to go very far, considering it is to be spread to all prosecutors and public defenders in the country. When the plan is fully funded, it is intended to help repay up to $60,000 in student loans for those in criminal prosecution and defense. Nevertheless, I am told that by August there may be a plan for distribution of the funding, and that means there is something to build on for the future. Thanks again to the National District Attorneys Association for working on this important initiative.

Interlock devices and friendly reminders

Ever think a judge isn’t reading the law the same way you are? Frustration with the perception that judges aren’t following the law took on a whole new meaning this summer when Mothers Against Drunk Driving sent a letter to the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission complaining that a Texas judge had not followed the law regarding ignition interlock. A defendant with an extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) conviction did not get the mandated device and later caused a fatal crash—while packing another very high BAC.

Now, a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commission can get a judge’s attention in a hurry, so if the use of interlock comes up in your court, you might want to help out your judge by mentioning Article 17.441 of the CCP (relating to bond conditions) and Article 42.12 §13(i) CCP (relating to probation conditions).

Richard Alpert wins NHTSA award

As you know, Richard Alpert (ACDA in Tarrant County) was named the 2009 State Bar of Texas Criminal Justice Section Prosecutor of the Year along with John Bradley (DA in Williamson County) for his work battling DWI. Richard has been the force behind the emerging trend to use blood, not breath, in DWI investigations.

Richard’s work has attracted the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in Washington D.C.; that group honored him with the 2008 Traffic Safety Prosecutor of the Year Award, which is presented each year by the National Association of Prosecutor Coordinators to the outstanding prosecutor in the area of traffic safety and DWI. Thanks, Richard, for your hard work and dedication!

Best of luck, Ashlee

TDCAA members have been blessed to have had a number of dedicated meeting planners who organize and plan our seminars in recent years. I am sad to report that Ashlee Myers will be leaving us at the end of January, though I am thrilled to say that she is leaving in expectation of her first child due in March! Thanks, Ash, for all of your hard work and the joyous spirit you have shared with us. Now, if we can only find a way to keep you on the TDCAA ping-pong team. …

TAC leadership changes

On January 1, Karen Norris retired as the Executive Director of the Texas Association of Counties. Karen has been a great friend of county and district attorneys and of TDCAA, and we will miss her.

The good news is, TAC’s new Executive Director is Gene Terry, former Marion County judge and TAC Assistant Executive Director. Gene has had a wealth of experience in both the public and private sectors. He was educated at Southwestern University and St. Mary’s Law School and had a career in finance as well as private practice in criminal law, probate, and oil and gas. Gene worked as the general counsel for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children for 10 years before he became the Marion County judge in 1994. Gene helped build TAC’s judicial education programs, including its DWI training program, before being appointed as the director. Welcome, Gene, and we look forward to working with you.

Goodbye to Gail ­Ferguson, voice of TDCAA

For 20 years, those who have called the association offices more than likely connected with a warm drawl: “Good morning, Texas District and County Attorneys Association, this is Gail.” Gail Ferguson always enjoyed saying the full name of this outfit when she answered the phone, which was just one small way that she made callers, visitors, and conference attendees feel special and cared for.

It is with both a happy and a heavy heart that I congratulate Gail on her retirement from TDCAA. I have worked with her for 19 years and have come to view her as the gold standard of membership services; I can guarantee you got the best of her work for two decades. And what’s more, I can guarantee you that she put a lot of love for you into every phone call, every email message, and every package. Thank you, Gail, for being my co-worker and being my friend. Best wishes to you in your retirement!

Editor’s note:  See Gail’s farewell note below.

Dear TDCAA Board and members: After 20 years at TDCAA, it is with a sad heart that I write this to say goodbye. I have such wonderful ­memories and have made so many great friends that leaving is bittersweet. My retirement came a little earlier than I had planned due to health issues, but I am moving into the next stage of my life with great anticipation. TDCAA, its staff, and its members will always be in my heart.

Thank you for 20 great years.

—Gail Ferguson