The Texas Prosecutor, Jan-Feb 2018

Our plan for 2018 has (largely) come together

In the immortal words of John “Hannibal” Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.” As you may recall, Hannibal led a former crack commando unit of the U.S. Army in the Los Angeles underground in the early 1980s. (I hear they are still wanted by the government.) For our purposes, there can be no question that, like Hannibal Smith’s scrappy team banding together to save work-a-day families besieged by unscrupulous real estate developers, TDCAA’s 2018 training has come together—all because of teamwork! The calendar is available online now at www.tdcaa.com/training.
    In the last months, I’ve described how TDCAA’s training is developed, and I have extolled the virtues of the people involved in that development. Avid readers of this journal now know all about training questionnaires, membership boards and committees, and how to make training suggestions. Those readers know that it is only through the hard work and dedication of their colleagues, serving on boards and committees, that TDCAA is able to digest our collected data and provide a quality training product. (You could say that, collectively, those folks make a real “A” team. Yes!) Through their efforts, TDCAA is able to plan nine major seminars a year and still remain flexible enough to conduct several smaller training events. In the last three months, I’ve had meetings with the Investigator Board, Civil Committee, and Training Committee to plan 2018 training. While much of the detail work remains, the broad topics and direction of the training is in place.
    So what do we have on the horizon for 2018? Solid. Gold.

Prosecutor Trial Skills Course
As is tradition, we kick the year off with the first of our two Prosecutor Trial Skills Courses (PTSC). Designed with new prosecutors in mind, this weeklong course covers the skills and practicalities necessary to develop into a successful Texas prosecutor. The instructors and faculty advisors for this course are culled from the very best prosecutors in the state, and their shared experience is an invaluable resource to attendees. If you are a new attorney, new to prosecution, or just looking for a solid refresher, this is the course for you. 2018 will see us in San Antonio for the January and July PTSC, and we’ll be returning to Austin in 2019.

Investigator School
In February, we’ll be in Galveston for our Investigator School. The Investigator Board came armed with great ideas for its annual conference this year, and it shows. There is an increased focus on those issues that often fall to DA and CA investigators: evidence destruction, writs of attachment, and dealing with mentally ill defendants. We’ll also be hitting areas that recognize our investigators as some of the most experienced peace officers in their jurisdictions. Often, they are the point of contact for local agencies with questions on such topics as eyewitness identification, human trafficking, and outlaw motorcycle gangs. (One topic we won’t cover is exhumations, but if there is a glut of need, we may return to that in a future year.) And, as always, we will have a full-day track set aside to provide training specifically for investigators new to a prosecutor office. Be advised that the school is a day shorter this year, but we are still able to provide 24 TCOLE hours.   

Specialty schools
The Training Committee’s hard work makes an entry with the first of two specialty schools in April. The April school is the longer event at four days, and this year we are returning to “crimes against kids” as the topic. This is always one of the most-requested and well-attended seminars we put on. In addition to a legal update and topic-appropriate ethics discussions, tracks are split to cover child sex assaults, child exploitation, and child injury cases. Each track will highlight the obstacles prosecutors face when handling such cases and identify methods to overcome those obstacles, be it at intake or during trial.  
    When it comes to repeating seminar topics, the archives at TDCAA headquarters are extensive, and it is fascinating to look back at two decades’ worth of Crimes Against Kids agendas. Each one builds on the prior course and reflects the prosecutorial needs of the time. We try and stay true to that course, and this year the committee has knocked it out of the park. We all know that these are some of the most difficult cases, and they often go to trial (rather than ending in a plea). This seminar is an exceptional opportunity for prosecutors newly assigned to these cases to learn the skills they need to see justice done as well as provide more seasoned child-crime prosecutors new ways to skin cats.  
    In the interest of trying new things, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from the Supreme Court of Texas’s Children’s Commission and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to discuss adding a track for CPS prosecutors and DFPS attorneys. I firmly believe that one of the hallmarks of TDCAA training is the opportunity for prosecutors to meet each other, share ideas, and know they are not on an island. We’ve not always been able to provide that opportunity to prosecutors assigned to CPS cases, but including CPS training during Crimes Against Kids is something we’ve done before and is, frankly, a natural fit.
    Our second specialty school is a three-day seminar in June, and the Training Committee decided we’d cover forensic evidence. This school is typically a single track of training with a narrower focus—I guess that is why we call it a specialty school. By taking a deeper dive on this topic, we can provide expertise in the collection, interpretation, protection, and defense of forensic evidence. We’ll be covering the usual suspects of DNA, cell phones, and toxicology, and we’re also going to have an “effective use of evidence in the courtroom” talk and an hour on firearms. This school is a great way to bridge any gaps you may have with the moving train that is forensic science. By attending the course, you won’t be able to build that train, but at least you’ll be able to hop on and know it runs on steam. It is an old-timey train that arrives in Dallas in June, so make your travel plans accordingly.

Civil Law Seminar
It’s in May and is, once again, rock solid. I love meeting with the Civil Committee because it reminds me of just how little I know. I cannot thank these committee members enough for the all the unintended lessons in humility I’ve received since becoming Training Director. If nodding along like you know what everyone is talking about is a skill, I can honestly say I’m good at something.  
    For this year’s course, in addition to the typically fantastic legal updates, the committee identified some pretty cool areas of training to cover. On the heels of the coastal disasters our state suffered in 2017, for example, we’ll be supplying the most up-to-date training to prepare for, react to, and deal with disaster fallout. Given the ongoing extreme conditions some of our member offices find themselves in, we will recruit instructors with the most expert and relevant information at our disposal. If you handle even some of the civil matters in your office and have yet to attend this conference, make a plan to come to Corpus Christi in May.

Advanced Advocacy Course
Later this year, prosecutors with a few years of experience will have an opportunity to apply for TDCAA’s Advanced Trial Advocacy Course in August. As usual, the Baylor Law School in Waco will graciously host. This is a limited-attendance course, the requirements of which are listed on our website. It is built around a single, real-life case—2018’s topic is intoxication manslaughter—and attendees receive in-depth training and courtroom practice for that type of case.
    This year, we are doing something a little bit different with the Advanced Course. We will still host our normal-sized advanced trial advocacy course, but in addition, we will also run an advanced appellate advocacy course. Getting a course with an appellate focus has been requested numerous times, and it has been in the works for a while. The future is now, and in 2018 we are going to make it happen! Both courses will work different procedural portions of the same intox manslaughter case. They will weave together for some shared classroom work and split off for more specific classes and practical exercises. If you are ready for a training challenge and a course designed to make you a better advocate for the truth, put a reminder on your calendar to apply for this course as soon as the brochure hits your desk.

And so on
The next big training after our Advanced Course is the Annual Update in September. I cannot tell you a thing about the Annual training because it hasn’t been planned yet. Setting the agenda for the Annual will occur during the next round of board and committee meetings in the spring, so if you want to make a suggestion, the time is right. I can tell you that we’ll be making a triumphant return to the Texas coast: The conference will be in Galveston, but not at a usual location. In 2018, we’ll be at Moody Gardens. It’s a fun spot. There’s an aquarium and more than one novelty penny-smashing machine.  
    Like the 2018 Annual Update, our KP-VAC Seminar has not yet been planned either, but it is going to be in Kerrville. I don’t expect there to be penny-smashing machines, but I bet we have a good time anyway.  
    That, friends, is a bird’s eye view of the 2018 TDCAA schedule of training—at least the first two-thirds of the year. We strive to post complete course agendas online and deliver paper brochures about three months before each training event, which means you need to keep a weathered eye on our website for registration dates and complete course descriptions. Dates and hotel information for every seminar, even those whose agendas aren’t yet finalized, are already on our website so you can mark your calendars and make room reservations (if you’re plotting out your year already).
    Until then, have a great 2018!