Executive Director's Report
March-April 2024

TDCAA leadership for 2024

By Rob Kepple
TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

I am thrilled to introduce the new members of the 2024 TDCAA Board of Directors! In the last edition of The Texas Prosecutor, we recognized those finishing Board service, but today I welcome new Board members:  David Holmes, County Attorney in Hill County, moving from Regional Director to Secretary–Treasurer; Brian Middleton, District Attorney in Fort Bend County, District Attorney at Large; Jessica Frazier, ACDA in Comal County, Assistant Prosecutor at Large; Shane Deel, C&DA in Callahan County, Region 3 Director; Will Durham, CDA in Walker County, Region 5 Director; Jacob Putman, CDA in Smith County, Region 6 Director; Dusty Boyd, District Attorney in Coryell County, Region 8 Director; Sara Bill, VAC in the C&DA Office in Aransas County, Key Personnel–Victim Services Board Chair; Carlos Madrid, ACA in El Paso County, Civil Committee Chair; Glen Fitzmartin, ACDA in Tarrant County, Training Committee Chair; Philip Mack Furlow, 106th Judicial District Attorney, Finance Committee Member; and Will Ramsay, 8th Judicial District Attorney, Finance Committee Member. 

            It is going to be a busy year, so thanks in advance for your work.    

The prosecutor vacancy crisis

Professor Adam Gershowitz at the William and Mary School of Law has recently explored the challenges prosecutor offices are facing in recruiting. This is a variation on a theme, of course, because we have heard about how many segments in our economy are facing staffing challenges as we recover from the pandemic. But the author looks at some themes that are perhaps all too well-known to prosecutors: lower-than-civil-firm salaries, big post-pandemic caseloads, lack of remote work options, and low morale in the post-George Floyd era. You can read the full report at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4666047.

            The good news is that nothing has really changed about the core mission of the job: serving our communities and seeing justice done in every case. Everyone who has tried a tough case knows that “highway high” when you are driving home at the end of a long day in court. Everyone who has announced “ready” for the State knows how you look forward to going to the courthouse in the morning to see what is next. It is unique that a prosecutor’s only mission is to see that justice is done in every case. As former District Attorney in El Paso County Jaime Esparza once said about doing justice: “It’s just that easy—and just that hard.”      

            On an interesting note, Professor Gershowitz followed up his research with an op-ed piece in Slate magazine that argues that those interested in criminal justice reform should really care about this issue. He writes that although some reform-minded folks may think that a “starve the beast” model is the best way to address problems in the criminal justice system, he argues that understaffed and overworked prosecutor offices end up making more mistakes and diminishing the quality of justice in their communities. That, by the way, is exactly what we discovered when we explored the problems associated with claims of widespread prosecutorial misconduct back in 2013. Understaffed, undertrained, and overworked staff is challenged to maintain a high quality of work product essential to justice in our courthouses.

            To read the professor’s op-ed piece, go to https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2024/01/prosecutor-crisis-criminal-justice-reform.html. To read our report, “Setting the Record Straight on Prosecutorial Misconduct,” download the PDF below.

TDCAA Historian Rick Miller

Here at Texas District and County Attorneys Association World Headquarters, we proudly display an ornate ribbon that was worn by a TDCAA member at what is noted on the ribbon as the first annual meeting of the association on November 2, 1905. (Someone gave it to us when they found it at a random garage sale.) We did some research in the archives of the Dallas Morning News and discovered that this meeting was held in conjunction with the Texas State Fair in Dallas and that the meeting featured discussions of the big problem of the day: juvenile crime.   

            Enter Rick Miller, former County Attorney in Bell County.  Rick has had a lot of jobs in his life—army paratrooper, police officer, solo practitioner, county attorney for 20 years, cartoonist, and the author of eight non-fiction histories of the Texas frontier. It is in this last capacity that he unearthed evidence surrounding the formation of our association through research in newspaper archives. The effort to mobilize district attorneys into an association was driven by Hatton W. Sumners, the County Attorney in Dallas County and future U.S. Senator. In addition to juvenile crime, there were many other pressing issues:  the woeful DA salary of $500 a year, the “hip pocket” problem of gun violence, bigamy, pool rooms, and gambling. 

            On November 3, 1905, Dallas Mayor Bryan T. Barry welcomed Texas prosecutors to Dallas and the state fair, which required responses from prosecutor leadership (apparently a thing back then). The responses were eloquent and, not unlike today, shows that Texas prosecutors are not always of one mind. On why they gathered: “No selfish motive brings us here. It is in response to the call of the people to put more of the rascals in the State to work on the rock pile. The people demand that the robber barons of wealth wear stripes with lesser thieves.” On the need for a new juvenile court system: “Save the seed corn. Save the little boys and girls, helpless ones, some with fallen and depraved parents, some hopeless orphans, mere gutter rats, some wayward children with good parentage and good homes, but all so young their minds and hearts being in the formative stage, that impressions are easily made and once made sink so deep they are never erased.” On poorly drafted and difficult-to-enforce laws: “The legislative branch was responsible for the imperfect enforcement of the law in that a great many of the laws placed upon the books of the State had either through ignorance or design been framed as to permit their easy evasion.”

            But there’s more! Rick found out that our association had formed even earlier than we previously thought. Indeed, the Morning News printed an article on July 19, 1891, announcing, “County and District Attorney Association Permanently Organized.” The article referenced a resolution creating the association that shall meet annually and establishing dues at 50 cents a year. So what happened to this new effort? By 1894 it appears that interest in the meeting had waned, and there was no evidence of a meeting from 1896 to 1905.

            Thanks, Rick, for the history lesson. If there is one thing to learn from this, nothing is new: In 2105 the issue of the day will be juvenile crime. On Mars, maybe, but juvenile crime.