May-June 2011

TDCAA’s Long-Range Plan

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

To make sure we continue to serve your needs, TDCAA operates on a continuing series of five-year plans. This is how your leadership keeps this outfit closely linked to the needs of our growing membership.

    The TDCAA Board approved a new five-year plan in March, and it’s time to get busy on it. Many of the items the board discussed were in the nature of “keep the focus on core training and support for prosecutors,” so you can count on TDCAA to continue to get you what you need in the area of training, publications, and governmental affairs.
    But there are some new adventures added to out “to-do” list in the next few years:

  • develop resources on forensic sciences to help prosecutors;
  • address the gap in insurance/representation that prosecutors offices are experiencing;
  • assist offices when it comes to their need in recruiting, retention, and diversity;
  • explore topics and technology for limited web-based training;
  • explore the feasibility of a capital fund for shared training equipment; and
  • explore the financial and technological feasibility of publishing books in electronic format.

As always, your input and enthusiasm for the association is appreciated and needed, so if you have ideas or energy to put to the task, just give me a call.    

Thank you, George Nachtigall!

Today, over 1,300 assistant county and district attorneys receive longevity pay from the state. The program was the brainchild of Vilma Luna, a state representative from Corpus Christi and a former assistant in Houston. The problem she addressed was simple: The State needed to encourage the best and brightest to make prosecution their profession, not just a short stop on the way to a lucrative private practice. Passed and fully funded in 2003, the program distributes millions to assistants every year.

    What you may not know is that for the last 10 years there has been a lawsuit bubbling over the funding mechanism, a $15 or $30 cost on the posting of a surety bond that is split for prosecutor longevity and indigent defense funding. Seems a couple bondsmen didn’t like this too much and have kept a lawsuit alive all these years. Our champion in the fight has been George Nachtigall, a senior assistant county attorney in the Harris County Attorney’s Office. George has done a great job of protecting your interests and has thrown himself into this lawsuit with zeal.

    I mention the case today because this fight has outlasted our champion. George has announced his retirement, effective at the end of April, after a 10-plus-year run at the CA’s office. We all owe George a round of applause for his efforts and dedication to our profession.

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment update

Our friends at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Lesa Moller and Kammi Contreras, have done an outstanding job of getting the Texas loan repayment program up and running. As of April, here are the numbers: $660,000 will be awarded in amounts of $2,500 to eligible prosecutors and $5,000 to eligible defense attorneys. As this edition goes to press, 132 prosecutors and 66 defense attorneys have been approved for awards. And to tell you how great Lesa and Kammi are, you should know that they haven’t drawn down all of the allowed administrative costs in the grant, so they will be asking the federal government for permission to use that leftover money to make some additional awards. How great is that?

    The future of the program, though, is uncertain. At this time, the original $10 million federal funding in 2010 is a big fat $0 in the 2011 budget. It is going to take some work at the national level to get this turned around, so stay tuned.

The Lord’s Work

Most of us who prosecute in Texas have been to TDCAA’s Prosecutor Trial Skills Course, affectionately known as “baby school.” And many of us still in the profession may credit our continued dedication in the service of others to two people, Judge Ted Poe and the late Mike Shelby. Both former prosecutors gave a great speech, known simply as “The Lord’s Work,” to new prosecutors; it came at the end of a grueling week of work and sent folks back to their offices on a true high. Indeed, Judge Poe’s rendition of the talk is the only one to draw outstanding reviews that were turned in—before the talk had finished. (Judge Poe was an assistant DA and district judge in Houston and is now a U.S. Congressman. Mike Shelby was an assistant DA in Houston and former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas who would still be doing the speech for us had he not succumbed to cancer a few years back.)

    Of all the training we do, we still receive requests for recordings of these two speeches. People still remember these talks above all others. The latest request put it well: “I attended ‘baby prosecutor school’ and a few other seminars with TDCAA in 2005 and 2006 when U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby spoke. He gave the same speech both times, and I was elated because the first time I heard it, I wished I could hear it again. I was so moved by Mike Shelby’s speech at those seminars that I have never forgotten it. He had a famous speech about what it meant to be a prosecutor and be in the justice system. I would like to share it with some local prosecutors who may not have heard it. I am aware, unfortunately, that Mr. Shelby has since passed away, but his speech stays with me. Is there any way that anyone knows of that I could get a transcript of that speech?”

    I wish we had a recording. But these continued requests are certainly a tribute to Mike and evidence of his enduring legacy. Perhaps when the time is right Congressman Poe will reprise his talk for all of us. In the meantime, you might be satisfied with a recorded rendition of the speech that Mike gave as part of his talk—the famous “band of brothers” speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. You can view one version of it at www 1LShXN8. But Mike did it better.

True justice

Justice is what you fight for every day. We don’t always see it, but sometimes an outcome can be satisfying. Take a recent murder case tried by John Pool, the County and District Attorney in Andrews County. The defendant was accused of killing the victim after $100 came up missing at his house. (Let’s just say the defendant was running a little pharmaceutical operation out of his home, and the victim was a frequent customer.) The defendant, shorted by the victim, told his wife before he went to the confrontation that proved fatal to the victim, that it wasn’t so much the money but the principle of the matter.

    The jury agreed on that score and found him guilty. The sentence? Ninety-nine years—and a $100 fine.