President's Column
November-December 2008

TDCAA: The anatomy of success

Bill Turner

District Attorney in Brazos County

This publication regularly spotlights the good work of our members. Prosecutors, investigators, and key personnel are improving the state from Amarillo to Brownsville and from Beaumont to El Paso. As an organization we come together to share our skills and improve our profession. At center stage in that theater is the staff of TDCAA. These are the folks who plan our meetings, answer our questions, put together our training, produce our publications, and organize our legislative initiatives. If you keep up with TDCAA, you have to be impressed with the quality of work that comes out of that office. Not only that, I am sure you will agree that putting up with us is no easy task.

Who are these people on staff at our association? I decided that it would be worthwhile to get better acquainted with those who keep TDCAA afloat. Space constraints prevented me from spotlighting every member of the staff, but the folks I was able to interview gave interesting insight into the anatomy of our success. Here’s what they had to say.

Diane Beckham

Senior Staff Counsel

Who are you?

Being a proud parent of a 15-year-old son with autism is a big part of who I am. Working with him and helping him maintain through adversity has made me an optimist. I throw myself into a problem 100 percent and believe that no road comes to an end, nothing stops the journey, and sometimes you just have to laugh.

I am an introvert, but I can fake being an extrovert for short bursts. After a party I need my time alone.

Why are you at TDCAA?

I accidentally fell into legal publishing as a career just before I joined TDCAA but, as a lawyer, this career makes the most sense to me.  I would hate the day-to-day confrontation most lawyers go through. This job allows me to work by myself or spend time nurturing others. I am building lifetime relationships with the authors I work with and am producing a positive product that helps people.

TDCAA has been my family. The TDCAA staff stuck with me during the early brutally hard days after Alex’s autism diagnosis and all that required, and I am committed to those relationships.

Why is TDCAA successful?

It starts with the hiring decision. We look for people who are passionate about what they do. No one here is ambivalent about their work. We feed off of each other’s commitment and when we see others working hard, we are eager to pitch in. We are very different people but all believe we are part of something bigger. We share a common cause of seeing that justice is done.

I think it’s important to spend time talking about non-work issues. We get to know each other and we end up working like a family.

Oops—gotta go! My son is on the other line.

Ashlee Myers

Meeting Planner

Who are you?

I like to help and enjoy seeing people smile. I’m independent, loud, and opinionated, and I love my quiet space. I would much rather experience something than hear about it. I can be headstrong, and if you tell me I can’t do something, I take it as a challenge. When I’m faced with a problem I look at all the angles and analyze all the steps before I decide on a plan. I have a painting of a monkey on my wall to remind me not to take things too seriously.

Why are you at TDCAA?

I love what I do. I love what prosecutors do, defending what is right. As a meeting planner, I want to provide the best environment for prosecutors to learn so they can increase their knowledge and go back and help their communities.

I also like the social aspect of this job. People are fascinating and I love to sit back and listen to the stories.

Why is TDCAA successful?

We have a unique mix of people who have a love for life. We love to work and love to play. I have worked in offices where the people drain your energy, but that’s not here. You can walk down the hall and hear someone laughing and it’s contagious.

There is a great balance of personalities here. While everyone is home-grown, some people can thrive with a legislator at a five-star restaurant while others can kick back on the porch with anyone. When it’s time to shine, it’s fun to see people roll up their sleeves and step up. It’s not really work, it’s fun.

Gail Ferguson

Administrative Assistant

Who are you?

“The long-timer” (I beat Rob by seven months) and the only grandmother on staff. Ashlee calls me the “mother hen.”

Why are you at TDCAA?

I had the good fortune to work for a very dedicated DA in a small town and being involved in every aspect of a case from beginning to end; it made me proud to hear him say, “The State is ready, Your Honor.” I felt I had been a part of keeping our community safe, and now I feel like I’m helping prosecutors all over Texas do the same. Someone once told me when you pull in the parking lot each morning and you’re smiling, then you’re in the right spot. After all these years, I’m still smiling.

Why is TDCAA successful?

The staff. Everyone here will go that extra mile for our members.

Erik Nielsen

Training Director

Who are you?

I’m a family man with two sons and a wife of 13 years. I was born and raised a Nebraskan and was taught always do your best no matter how small the job. I don’t necessarily want to be viewed as the best, but I do want to do my best. I’m energetic but I also feed off the energy of other people. I’m loyal, especially to the people and institutions I respect.

Why are you at TDCAA?

When I was growing up my mom worked at the courthouse. After school I watched trials and it seemed like prosecutors were in the right because they were putting someone bad away. At TDCAA I feel like what we are doing is important. It’s not about money or satisfying yourself; we are taking affirmative steps to make our state a better place.

Why is TDCAA successful?

The executive team looks for people who “get it.” Our people are in it to help each other. There is no real division or hierarchy. When something needs to be done, we all roll up our sleeves and do it. At TDCAA you can have fun and still do a great job.

Sarah Wolf

Communications Director

Who are you?

I’m the creative kid of practical parents, a student of chemical engineering who switched my major to English, and a girl with a Midwestern work ethic living an Austin lifestyle. My friends think I’m an old lady at heart because I enjoy crafts and cooking. At the end of the day I want to do all the good I possibly can.

I grew up in a community where people constantly stopped to help people out of a snow drift or patch of ice, where each of us was charged with the well-being of the community. As a result, when I see an injustice, I have an urge to fix it. Sometimes I think I’m too soft for this work; when I read about some of the cases our members deal with, it’s difficult to put it out of my mind. I have taken up yoga to help quiet the stress.

I am a writer. My mom can show you poems I wrote when I was 3 years old. Writing is as natural to me as breathing. It can be creative or practical. Most of my work at TDCAA involves the practical side of writing, so I indulge the creative side by writing at home.

Why are you at TDCAA?

I am inquisitive and a good editor, but I need help with the subject matter—I’m not a lawyer, after all. The people here at TDCAA are great teachers and are so generous with their time. For me, writing about Texas criminal law is the cake, and the icing is that I’m one of the good guys. It is satisfying that we are helping keep our communities safe.

I work with amazing people who run the gamut of experience. We are a tight-knit group that keeps up with each other’s families and regular lives. We are all self-aware and know what we need to do our jobs.

Why is TDCAA successful?

I think we have highly educated people who are self-starters and work well together. Our office works like cogs in a machine. We have people who are good fits for their jobs and are quick to pitch in and help the rest of us.

We have hired the right people to do the right jobs, and Rob empowers us to do our work as we see fit. He has a genuine interest in what we do and trusts us to do the job right.

Rob Kepple

Executive Director

Who are you?

I’m the son of a 30-year auto worker. He was the first person in his family to get an education, and I was raised to have a real appreciation for hard work and the opportunities you are given. My dad was grateful to a country that gave him an education through the G.I. Bill, so he taught me that you’ve gotta give back. Important work was work that helped other people, and my parents insisted I do something important with my life.

Part of who I am comes from a heart problem I had as a kid. Even after an operation, the school barred me from physical education classes. I took up tennis and went on to fence for Ohio State. The heart problem caused me to take things more seriously, and I learned that I can do some things when other people say I can’t.

I’m a trusting person. I like most people just fine. I’m pretty nonjudgmental but when I do evaluate people, I don’t look at how they treat me but rather at how they treat people they might consider insignificant.

Why are you at TDCAA?

I worked hard at law school to make the best grades I could. My grades helped me get a job at Fulbright & Jaworski, but I was bored. They were great lawyers with great clients, but I just didn’t get it. I had some friends who were prosecutors and when they talked about their cases, it snapped. I remember saying: “That sounds like something important.”

I love the profession of prosecution. In my mind, y’all are a bunch of superheroes who have chosen to use your powers to do good. I love what prosecutors stand for, so it is our job at the association to do what we can to help. At a statewide level we are training, educating, and helping prosecutors become more professional. I think all the hard work is paying off.

Why is TDCAA successful?

TDCAA is a membership-driven organization. I believe organizations like this fail when the staff makes all the decisions. That’s why we spend time on long-range plans and reaching out to our members to make sure we are getting them the training and services they need.

Our staff is well educated, professional, and the top in their respective fields. They are brilliant, dedicated, and committed from the bottom up. They all have a sense of purpose, and we never forget that we are here to serve the membership.

My staff has the authority to make decisions without being second-guessed. I trust them and rely on their judgment. My role is to support them and see how I can help. I remember Ishmael, the storyteller in Moby Dick, who felt like he was in the midst of great people watching them do great things. That’s how I feel when I watch the TDCAA staff at work.

The best decisions we make are when we, as a group, sit around and talk things through. When we get together, there is always a lot of firepower in the room.


To make a quality product, you start with quality parts. The success of our organization is not an accident; it’s the result of good people working very hard at jobs they do very well.

Each member of the staff I spoke with was quick to give us, the membership, all the credit for how well we are doing. It is precisely that attitude that makes them so successful.

If you haven’t taken the time to get to know the staff, I think you would enjoy it. If you haven’t told them thanks in a while, now is a good time. They do amazing work, and they do it for us. ✤