May-June 2007

Remembering Matthew Paul

Diane Beckham

TDCAA Senior Staff Counsel

On March 25, Texas prosecutors lost an irreplaceable ally with the death of State Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Paul. Those of us fortunate enough to count him as a friend lost something even more significant. Matthew’s unique combination of brilliance, humility, fairness, warmth, and humor will be sorely missed by his friends and family.

Matthew loved learning more than anything, whether it was figuring out how to play guitar, exploring a new place outdoors, discovering a great new author, or researching an esoteric point of law. In part because of his curiosity about life and his joy in living it, Matthew had countless facets. For instance, before he went to UT law school (where he graduated first in his class), Matthew spent three years in medical school. Before that, he helped his doctor father deliver babies in Africa.

He would probably agree that some of his happiest moments were spent discussing criminal law with his beloved past and current colleagues at the SPA’s office, Jeff Van Horn, Betty Marshall, and Lisa McMinn. He was generous in giving his time to any prosecutor who approached him for advice on a legal problem, and best of all, he never patronized or made any of us feel dumb for asking. Just the opposite: He made us all feel like he was happy to be asked and excited about the chance to investigate some new legal question. And equally importantly, he never failed to ask each caller or visitor how things were going. He remembered the names of our children and our ongoing life struggles and triumphs, and he always cared enough to ask about them and listen to the answers.

In that way, Matthew reminded a lot of us of former Fort Worth appellate chief C. Chris Marshall, who also was taken from the prosecutor ranks too early when he was killed in the Tarrant County Courthouse shooting in July 1992. Both men were big-hearted teachers and mentors and were always eager to share what their unmatched brains held. In 2005, Matthew received the C. Chris Marshall Distinguished Faculty Award from TDCAA, a perfect tribute to a man who followed in Chris’s footsteps of fairness, generosity, and wisdom.

As bright as he was, Matthew could also laugh at himself for his very few weaknesses, notably, his befuddlement at technology. He needed (and was always grateful for) help with e-mail, PowerPoint, and most things related to the computer, such as font styles and point sizes. Matthew’s office manager, Brenda Kunco, cheerfully served as his technology translator in the SPA’s office, as did Theresa Garza and Pam Wood before Brenda. He once shouted his lunch order—repeatedly, unsuccessfully, and with increasing volume—to the wrong ordering station at a drive-through fast-food restaurant (a pole with no speaker, basically). For years after that, to make me laugh, he would turn to the nearest pole, pillar, or column and begin shouting a random lunch order.

When he talked about his job representing the State before the Court of Criminal Appeals, he got most excited when he talked about the cases that required collaboration with other prosecutors. He was thrilled to win victories in Saldano v. State1 alongside then-Collin County appellate chief John Stride and in Margraves v. State2 with Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner. In 2001, when the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled3 that the SPA had the right to file the single petition for discretionary review for the State—thereby potentially shutting elected prosecutors out of the loop if the SPA chose to file—Matthew went well out of his way to reassure prosecutors that his office’s policy of collaboration with local elected officials would continue. That generous approach was certainly not required by the law. But choosing to collaborate rather than asserting power was exactly the sort of choice you’d expect from Matthew.

I was lucky enough to work with Matthew on a few different publications, most notably the Prosecutor Trial Notebook. He devoted countless hours to helping write a resource that the TDCAA Publications Committee thought would help guide new prosecutors from first contact with a suspect through post-conviction procedures. We started from scratch, we usually worked right up until the last second (but never completely busted a deadline), and he never once complained about the amount of work required or the deadline pressure.

Even before that, Matthew was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Austin to work for TDCAA more than 10 years ago. Almost certainly, we first started talking because I needed his help answering a legal question. But he became my friend when he asked about how I was doing, and he helped me get through the worst days of my then-3-year-old son’s autism diagnosis and how it had turned my world upside-down. He listened, helped me translate doctor-speak about brain terminology, and helped me laugh through the darkest days. Ten years later, with the crisis days long past and my son thriving beautifully as an A-student and budding actor, Matthew still never failed to ask how Alex was doing whenever we talked.

He wasn’t as excited to talk about his own health concerns over the years. He was incredibly stoic and preferred to keep those to himself, so much so that even with his health issues, his death at 51 caught us all by surprise. He came in to the office and did his work on days when he felt horrible. When asked how he was doing or feeling, his answer was never any worse than, “Pretty good,” even on days when you knew he just wished that were true.

Matthew was an enthusiastic supporter of all TDCAA efforts, whether that was teaching, writing a book, reading a manuscript from another author, or helping plan a seminar. We’re humbled that his family has named the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation as the recipient for memorial donations.4 We will use all donations made in his name for educational purposes for prosecutors, and we will do our best to use the funds on projects that will honor Matthew best.

Matthew will be sorely missed by his wife, Lisa (whose bright smile and cheerfulness has long been part of our annual conferences); his mother, Dorothy; his siblings, Mark, Lauri, Holly, and Amy; and the rest of his fun-loving family. We at TDCAA extend our heartfelt condolences to all of them.

The Texas criminal justice community will miss Matthew’s fairness, insight, and elegant way of writing and expressing himself. All of his friends will miss his laughter, his warmth and concern, and his generosity of spirit. Matthew loved learning about the law, being a prosecutor, and working with all of us. He will not be forgotten, and Texas is a richer place for all his contributions.

A recent PDR from Matthew

One of the last petitions for discretionary review Matthew Paul wrote was in Curtis v. State, No. 1820-06, in which the lower court of appeals had ruled that officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop a motorist who had swerved in his lane of traffic. Jeff Van Horn brought smiles to the faces of those who attended Matthew’s funeral service in Ballinger on March 29 when he read the following excerpt from Matthew’s PDR:

“The Court of Appeals noted that there are any number of reasons why a person might swerve or weave out of his lane of traffic, including dropping a sandwich on the floor. It is true that a driver might weave once because he dropped his sandwich on the floor of his vehicle. But three times? For a person to have that much trouble accomplishing the ordinary activity of feeding himself is alone evidence of significant impairment. One drop of a sandwich is understandable. Three unsuccessful attempts to move sandwich from hand to mouth is slapstick comedy.”


1 Saldano v. State, 70 S.W.3d 873 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002) (elected district or county attorney, rather than the Texas Attorney General, has the constitutional and statutory right to represent the State on appeal and on writs of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court).
2 Margraves v. State, 34 S.W.3d 912 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000) (rejecting argument of defendant, a regent from Texas A&M University, that if a defendant can show a mixed use of state property—one for official business purposes and one for personal reasons—the defendant is not guilty of official misconduct).
3 Ex parte Taylor, 36 S.W.3d 883 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001) (the State can file only one PDR in any case; if the SPA files, that PDR is treated as the official petition for the state, leaving any other petition by the district or county attorney to be treated as an amicus brief).
4 Interested people can send any contributions to TDCAF, 1210 Nueces St., Austin, TX 78701. Please include Matthew’s name on the memo line so that we can direct the funds accordingly.