September-October 2013

TDCAA is member-focused and member-driven

David Escamilla

County Attorney in Travis County

Now that my term as president nears completion, it’s time to look ahead and mention an observation or two about the organization.

    Earlier this year I wrote that the true value of TDCAA lies in it membership. And with current membership exceeding 5,800, TDCAA is the largest statewide association of prosecutors in the nation. You don’t need a Ph.D. in math to calculate that we’ve got a great deal of value available to us, much of it untapped.

    Having been a member of TDCAA for over 25 years (they should award a pin of some kind after that long), I’ve been involved in many different aspects of the organization. For the most part, this primarily involved volunteering with other members on a TDCAA committee in support of a particular initiative or subject matter important to the organization and its membership. I’ve often found that our work was greatly enhanced by the diversity of our committees, including representation from prosecutors’ offices large and small and reflecting viewpoints from various regions of the state.

    As a result of these experiences, I’ve come to believe that it’s critically important that we continue to emphasize the importance of keeping our membership engaged in the association and its ongoing operations. And with the broad scope of matters in which we are continuously involved, the need for more direct involvement from our members is growing.

    You need look no farther than the recent regular session of the Legislature to see evidence of this need for our members to get engaged. Of the 5,873 bills filed this session, TDCAA and other volunteers, directly monitored 1,473 of them (approximately 25 percent) because of their potential impact on our offices and/or the criminal justice system. These volunteers, expertly led by our Government Relations guru Shannon Edmonds, frequently travelled to Austin to testify before legislative committees and otherwise educate legislators and their staffs on our concerns and input on pending legislation. The recent legislative session included consideration of several initiatives of critical concern to prosecutors, including discovery reform, changes in bar grievance procedures for prosecutors, and the proposed creation of an innocence commission. Our legislative rotation program, which is open to any TDCAA member, enabled prosecutors to come to Austin for two to four days to watch, learn about, and impact the legislative process. While this initiative goes into action on a biennial basis to coincide with the legislative sessions, we have a great need for more prosecutors to get involved in this important effort.

    Perhaps the most important service that TDCAA provides involves producing comprehensive continuing education for prosecutors, civil lawyers, investigators, victim assistance coordinators, and key personnel. While overseen and administered by TDCAA staff, our volunteers carry out the bulk of the effort, from the planning of topics and recruitment of speakers, to preparation of papers and presentations. Several groups, including the Training Committee, Civil Committee, Key Personnel Section, Victim Services Section, and the Investigator Section, produce these seminars. The need for more volunteers and speakers to maintain these excellent programs is never-ending.

    Complementing the education program, TDCAA produces an extensive catalog of legal publications to assist member offices in carrying out their work. More importantly, continuing sales of several of these publications provides a significant share of our annual revenue. Overseen by Diane Burch Beckham, the Publications Committee utilizes volunteers to plan and author publications. And I know from personal experience that we are always on the lookout for volunteers to author articles of interest to our profession.

    A volunteer board governs the Investigator Section and, in addition to planning and providing training for our investigators, this board manages the affairs of the section, including conferring scholarships and other awards annually. Volunteer boards likewise govern the Key Personnel Section and Victim Assistance Section, primarily focusing on planning and presenting the annual Key Personnel and Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar.

    Plenty of opportunities also exist for elected prosecutors to assist TDCAA with our administrative operations. Most of you are of course aware that we now own our own building. Our decision to end leasing our facilities and instead pursue purchase of the building was arrived at only after much due diligence, financial analysis, and formal recommendation by our Building Committee. Primarily meeting on an as-needed basis, the committee remains available to assist the board of directors on actions related to the use and maintenance of this valuable asset. Additionally, the Finance Committee, composed of members from the board as well as non-board elected prosecutors, assists the board of directors in monitoring our annual budget and investments.

    E. Pete Adams, Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, has been credited with this observation: “Because if you don’t know where you are going, any turn is OK.” Recognizing this truism, TDCAA establishes a Long-Range Planning Committee approximately every five years to conduct a comprehensive review of our mission, goals, and services. Volunteer members of this committee, likely to begin work again in the next couple of years, are usually selected from TDCAA’s membership, including elected prosecutors, assistants, investigators, victim assistants, and key personnel.

    In 2006, the TDCAA board created the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation (TDCAF), a 501(c)(3) support organization. TDCAF’s stated mission is “to provide enduring support for the mission of TDCAA to improve prosecution and government representation in Texas through education and technical assistance by seeking the resources and other assistance from all sources, including the community at large.” A volunteer Board of Trustees, composed of TDCAA leadership and other public members elected by the TDCAA Board of Directors, is responsible for successfully accomplishing TDCAF’s mission. The Foundation board is also assisted by a volunteer Advisory Committee. Since its inception six years ago, the Foundation has raised more than $2,058,000 in contributions to support the mission of TDCAA.

    As you can conclude from the foregoing summary, TDCAA is supported by a large and diverse operation of boards and committees. The vast majority of our efforts are planned and implemented by our volunteer membership working together to assist Texas’ elected prosecutors and their staffs. In order to succeed, TDCAA requires a large number of volunteers experienced in the operation and laws related to the functions of a prosecutor’s office. There’s a continuing need for volunteers possessing this experience to engage with us to successfully carry out TDCAA’s mission today and for the decades to follow. Please email me at [email protected] or search me out at our upcoming Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update in Galveston if you would like to know more or are otherwise interested in exploring how you might personally contribute to our efforts.

    Finally, I wanted to take a moment to recognize our own Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza for his induction this summer as president of the National District Attorneys Association. NDAA was formed in 1950 to advance state and local prosecutors’ issues at the national level. According to its website, “NDAA representatives regularly meet with the Department of Justice, members of Congress, and other national associations to represent the views of prosecutors and influence federal and national policies and programs that affect law enforcement and prosecution.” Henry also serves on the TDCAA board of directors, and we are fortunate to have him representing our interests on a national level. Congratulations, Henry.