Executive Director's Report
November-December 2008

Oh Galveston!

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

A couple months ago, we all watched intently as Hurricane Ike churned its way to the Texas coast. After landfall, we did the best we could to stay in contact with our friends on Galveston Island; I talked to the local CDA, Kurt Sistrunk, the morning before the storm hit as he moved his office’s intake to the safe refuge of the San Luis Hotel; it was a little like talking to a submarine commander who was closing the hatch and disappearing beneath the surface for a few days.

We had a chance to talk with Kurt and his staff in the weeks that followed on everything from a temporary courthouse location, to looting, to price gouging, to some local guy who was collecting all the stray beach toys in his backyard. We know it has, and will be, tough for our folks in Galveston and along the entire upper coast—and things ain’t getting back to normal soon. Here is an excerpt from Kurt’s email to us a couple weeks after Ike’s visit: “I’m powering down, unplugging the little generator and getting out of here and off the island before dark, and believe me there’s a new meaning to dark down here.” I believe him.

We’ll be back!

You must admire the “can do” spirit of the Galveston Convention Centre folks. On Sunday morning, the day after the storm passed, they were on the phone to Ashlee Myers, one of our meeting planners, to offer some new dates for our annual conference—in October. Indeed, when I talked to them a week later, they announced all the hotels and a growing number of restaurants were open for business. Powered by generators, sure, but the hotels were full and serving 1,500 meals a day! Despite those assurances, we took a pass on an immediate return.

Instead, our training team of Erik Nielsen, Ashlee Myers, and Manda Helmick turned this training ship on a dime and came up with a great Annual Criminal & Civil Law Update location and date (Austin in January—it will replace our usual Prosecutor Trial Skills Course) and a full agenda that keeps virtually all the firepower of the original. Thanks to Sarah Wolf, Sherry Chen, Dayatra Rogers, and John Brown for reloading the brochures, registration materials, and online registration options. (You can register on our website at www.tdcaa.com/ austin.) As you can imagine, it’s no small feat to plan a conference of this size, let alone reschedule it in a couple of short weeks—yet this team has done it.

A couple of notes about this conference:  We have fielded more than a few calls from members asking why we locate our annual conferences on the coast in the midst of the hurricane season. First, we historically have tried to schedule our seminar for the same week as the judges’ annual conference, thus upping the chances that y’all can attend because you won’t be in trial if your judges are gone. Second, we book hotels that offer state rates for a large group; not every hotel during every time of year will give us such a large block of rooms at that low price. Add to these two reasons that there is huge attendance when we have our Annual at the coast—fully 25 percent more than when the seminar is inland—and we’ve been inclined to not fix what ain’t broke.

That said, having been run off the coast twice in five years, we are already talking about some new venues. Galveston is still on the list, of course. Those folks have been great to deal with, the city has a great convention center, and by all accounts we had our biggest and best annual ever in Galveston in 2001, so we’ll be back.

Regarding the January Trial Skills Course:  Although we have usurped the date and hotel that was at one time reserved for what we affectionately call “baby school,” we have the same course coming up in July. We will increase our hotel block for the July course to accommodate everyone who had originally planned to attend in January. As some of y’all might recall, several years ago we created two Trial Skills Courses per year—the July course was once the only one—so we figure we can pull off the bigger course with no problems.

TDCAA Annual Business Meeting and Board Elections

The association still has some unfinished business in the wake of the Galveston cancellation. The annual business meeting scheduled during the Annual will be held instead at the Elected Prosecutor Conference on Wednesday, December 3 at 5 p.m. at the Omni Southpark Hotel in Austin. As a refresher, the membership will consider the following nominations: for President-Elect, Scott Brumley (CA in Amarillo); for Secretary/Treasurer Mike Fouts (DA in Haskell); and for Criminal District Attorney at Large, Joe Brown (CDA in Sherman). According to TDCAA bylaws, this year’s President, Bill Turner (DA in Bryan) will move up to the Chairman of the Board spot, and Barry Macha (CDA in Wichita Falls) will become the TDCAA President. As this edition of the Texas Prosecutor goes to press, we do not yet have a nomination for County Attorney at Large. Jaime Tijerina (CA in Sarita), who had originally been nominated, has withdrawn his name because he will be heading to Iraq in early December for a tour of duty. Good luck, Jaime! We’ll keep a spot open for you when you get back.

Happy trails to some ­professional prosecutors

This will be a big year for turnover in the ranks of elected Texas prosecutors. By my count, we have more than 30 elected district and county attorneys hanging it up at the end of December. I won’t even try to print a complete list here, but I want to extend a special recognition to those who, as demonstrated by their 20-plus year tenures, have made prosecution their chosen career. This list includes some great professional prosecutors: Johnny Acktinson (DA in Farwell); Jim Anderson (CA in Rockport); Ronnie Earle (DA in Austin); Jim Kuboviak (CA in Bryan); Bruce Roberson (DA in Perryton); Joe Rubio (DA in Laredo); Tully Shahan  (CA in Brackettville); Ricky Smith (DA in Lamesa); Ron Sutton (DA in Junction); John Terrill (DA in Stephenville); Duncan Thomas (DA in Greenville); and David Williams (CA in San Saba). If you’ve retired with over 20 years and I’ve missed you, please let me know.

Thanks to you all for your dedication, commitment, and leadership. I believe that our chosen profession has made great strides in the last 20 years, and because of your work we are well-prepared for the next two decades.

An honor for Carol Vance

Congratulations to Carol Vance, who served as the Harris County District Attorney from 1966 to 1979, on his recognition by the Texas Bar Foundation as one of this year’s Outstanding Fifty Year Lawyers. These have been an awfully good 50 years for our profession: Carol not only served as the Harris County DA, but he also established TDCAA as the home for Texas prosecutors, served as President of the National District Attorneys Association, and is a sustaining Life Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation.

Carol is a great friend and leader. He truly deserves this recognition.

The Incredible Hawk

Did you ever go to a TDCAA seminar and see this big, burly, bald guy built like a brick firehouse with the nametag “Hawk,” and say to yourself: “Man, I bet he’d win one of those ultimate fighting championships!” Well, you’d be right.

I had the pleasure of meeting Pat “Hawk” Hardy many years ago at one of our conferences. Pat now serves as an investigator for the Kaufman County DA’s Office, but he has also prosecuted in the past, most notably as part of the prosecution team on the notorious Jasper dragging murder. This past summer Pat captured the gold medal at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation 2008 World Champion-ships in California. He competed in the Black Belt Senior category in the ultra-heavy division. This shouldn’t be a surprise to those who know Pat, as he has been fighting on the world stage in full contact karate since the 1970s. Me, I’m just glad this guy’s on my team.

The real brains behind the operation

For years, you have heard Shannon Edmonds and the TDCAA staff on the road at our legislative updates talking about how laws are made (the proverbial sausage grinder). Well, the truth of the matter is that one guy had our backs when it came to the Penal Code. For over 20 years, a lawyer at the Texas Legislative Council, Gary Kansteiner, has quietly molded Texas criminal law. His job was to take a law suggested by a legislator and draft it in a way that fit the current law—and to not miss a single cross-citation or comma along the way. He kept the legislators out of trouble and, without a lot of fanfare, was largely responsible for keeping the Texas Penal Code as clean and consistent as it is. Well, Mr. Kansteiner went and retired on us in September, and we will all miss him, even if you never met him.

The President’s Column

Bill Turner put his stamp on the President’s Column when he interviewed other prosecutors about their work in the profession. I very much enjoyed reading why y’all do what you do, the cases that have left a mark, and how you handle your discretion. I’m impressed by how hard y’all work to get it right. At the end of the day, I think Jaime Esparza (DA in El Paso) summed it up best when he observed that, “Our job is as simple as right and wrong—and also that complicated.”

In this edition of the Texas Prosecutor, Bill finished his series by interviewing TDCAA staff members about their role in prosecution. Thanks to Bill for giving us the chance to tell you how much we respect your work and how much we enjoy helping you do what you do so very well.

Welcome to Andria!

If you’ve called the TDCAA offices in the past several weeks with a legal question, chances are you’ve spoken with our new research attorney, Andria Brannon, who comes to us from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. Before law school, Andria worked at Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Texas, New Beginning Center (a domestic violence agency), and Children’s Medical Center Dallas; while at St. Mary’s, she interned at the Kendall County Attorney’s Office, Texas Municipal Courts Education Center (TMCEC), and the Travis County Juvenile Public Defender’s Office. She likes TDCAA because “everyday is something different. I never know what question will be on the other end of the phone.”

In her spare time, Andria is a creative type who bakes, reads, makes jewelry, and hangs out with her rescued dog, Ace. We’re thrilled to have her at the association, so please welcome her! ✤