By Rob Kepple
TDCAA Executive Director in Austin
I want to take a moment to thank the TDCAA staff for all they do. It is really amazing to see the training, books, and services this group of 16 dedicated people can consistently give you. For instance, TDCAA delivered 68,719 hours of continuing education in Fiscal Year 2018, putting TDCAA in the top five State Bar MCLE providers (out of more than 1,500). This group manages to produce one major seminar a month, plus countless regional, in-house, and online training offerings. On top of that, TDCAA publications lead the field in Texas criminal law with more than 33 high-quality books and manuals. Finally, we pride ourselves in getting you the legal answers and resources you need in a timely way. We may not know the answer here, but our profession has a lot of depth and we can find you the right expert.
Our secret? Experience and dedication to people we serve. Your TDCAA staff has a combined 153 years of service at TDCAA, for an average of almost 10 years per person. Simple fact is we like working for you! This is a positive, energetic and “can do” group, and I am proud to work with them.
Legislative Session in the rear-view mirror
Here at TDCAA we are putting the final touches on our Legislative Update conferences. Updated code books are being shipped, registrations are pouring in, and we’ve gassed up Frank the Tank (the official TDCAA vehicle). I won’t spoil the show by telling you everything that happened during the 86th Regular Session, but I do want to hit a couple of highlights.
First, the legislature shored up assistant prosecutor longevity pay for the rest of Fiscal Year 2019 and for the 2020–’21 biennium. I can tell you that legislators were anxious to make sure this program was supported, and I’d like to thank Representatives John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) and Senators Jane Nelson (R-Plano), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Royce West (D-Dallas), and Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen). There was no shortage of members who kept an eye on this fix as it worked its way through the system.
Second, one of the most significant changes in law is buried deep in the 1,000-plus pages of the General Appropriations Act. Budget writers have invested in the DPS crime lab in Austin to the tune of hiring 120 new forensic analysts. That will allow the lab to “double-bench” with a second shift so they can really put a dent in the lab’s backlog. In addition, the legislature passed a provision allowing forensic analysts to testify on a video feed, which could save a lot of travel time and keep the analysts on the bench working cases.
As usual, there are some fun bills that always pass. One of my personal favorites is how the city of Fredericksburg is trying to remake itself. Check out House Concurrent Resolution 37, by which the city sunsets its designation as the state’s Polka Capital of Texas … and remakes itself as the official Wine Capital of Texas!
I want to take a moment to thank so many prosecutors who worked with the legislature this session. In our January–February 2019 edition of The Texas Prosecutor, I described the role TDCAA has historically played at the legislature, that is, as a resource. It is our members who do the heavy lifting.
It would be impossible to recognize everyone who weighed in, but it was great to have a number of experienced assistant prosecutors spend many a long night at various legislative committees and represent the profession well: Pete Gallego (ACDA in Bexar County), Vincent Giardino (ACDA in Tarrant County), Tiana Sanford (ADA in Montgomery County), Paige Williams and Alex Guio (ACDAs in Dallas County), and Amy Meredith (ADA in Travis County).
Fun facts about Texas prosecution
Speaking of Vincent Giardino, legislative liaison extraordinaire: He recently completed a book on the 100-year history of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office. I have watched him spend countless hours reviewing archived newspapers and legal documents to dig into the office’s rich history, and he has told me about some of the more interesting things he has learned about our profession. For instance:
• New lawyers starting their profession as prosecutors is nothing new. As far back as 1861, one man boasted in a newspaper ad that he was more qualified than his opponents to be the district attorney because he had recently become “a full man” by getting married—while his two opponents were still bachelors. In 1881, Governor Oran M. Roberts, a former district attorney and judge, said that the state needed more experienced lawyers and called for prosecutors to be paid at least as well as district court judges. This need to attract and maintain experienced prosecutors is still imperative today.
• Jurors had to be sequestered until the 1960s. Some courthouses had a jury dormitory within the courthouse to accommodate jurors forced to stay the night. There would be enough space for 13 beds: room for 12 men and a bailiff. The law was changed for two reasons: One, women could finally sit on Texas juries in 1954 so counties suddenly needed separate accommodations; and two, it seemed silly that the defendant could go home at night if he were on bond but the jury had to be locked up.
• Prosecutors’ salaries used to be paid out of the fines they collected, not general revenue, so if no fines were assessed or collected, that meant salaries could not be paid—which is unimaginable now. This practice was not changed statewide until 1951.
• The Penal Code was re-codified in 1974. Prior to that year, sentencing statutes were phrased as such: “life, or a term of years not less than two.” This meant there was no cap on the number of years, and a couple of McLennan County juries gave defendants 5,000-year sentences. To combat this, the legislature put in our modern language of “99 years, or life.”
How things change!