The key to success for TDCAA is its members—this is truly a member-driven organization. We have enjoyed some great leadership this last year, and I would like to thank those folks who ended their Board service on December 31: Rene Pena, 81st Judicial District Attorney in Atascosa County; Henry Garza, DA in Bell County; Katherine McAnally, Assistant CA in Burnet County; Dan Joiner, Assistant CDA in Taylor County; Art Bauereiss, DA in Angelina County; and Danny Buck Davidson, DA in Panola County. Thanks for the steady hand on the wheel!
2016 Board elections
In December TDCAA elected some new leadership to take office January 1, 2016. According to the by-laws, Staley Heatly, DA in Wilbarger County, the 2015 President, ascends to Chairman of the Board, and 2016’s President is Bernard Ammerman, County and District Attorney in Willacy County. Newly elected to the Board are Randall Sims, DA in Potter County, President Elect; Jennifer Tharp, CDA in Comal County, Secretary/Treasurer; Julie Renken, DA in Washington County, DA at Large; Woody Halstead, Assistant CDA in Bexar County, Assistant Prosecutor at Large; Rebekah Whitworth, CA in Mason County, Region 3 Director; Steve Reis, DA in Matagorda County, Region 5 Director; Kenda Culpepper, CDA in Rockwall County, Region 6 Director; and Dusty Boyd, DA in Coryell County, Region 8 Director. Congratulations on your elections, and thanks in advance for your service.
Changes at TDCAA
I want to thank two people who have been terrific employees here at TDCAA and who are leaving us. First, thanks to Manda Herzing, our Meeting Planner, who is moving to Minnesota to be closer to family. Manda has loved working with y’all, and it really showed in the effort she put in every day. Second, I want to thank Jack Choate, our Training Director, for his work. Jack got an offer he just couldn’t refuse: Executive Director of the Special Prosecution Unit in Huntsville. Fortunately for us, that means he can still be a part of our profession and future trainings. Good luck to both Manda and Jack!
Texas prosecutors lead the nation in fixing the DNA mixture snafu
By the time you read this, many of you will have spent countless hours sifting through old files to identify DNA mixture cases, sending letters to defense attorneys, and alerting individuals who were convicted in part based on DNA mixture evidence. And the fun has just started: The writs based on revised combined probability of inclusion numbers haven’t started coming in just yet. But you should take pride in the fact that Texas prosecutors have grabbed this bull by the horns early and have demonstrated a real dedication to justice by aggressively seeking to solve this problem. Indeed, at recent national gatherings of prosecutors, it became apparent to us that most prosecutors in the country have no idea that this DNA mixture snafu probably exists in their crime labs as well. In the next few months we will do our best to share our experiences with the profession nationwide. Nice to see Texas prosecutors leading the way—again.
Race and gender in our profession
In the past few months we have received a number of media inquiries about the race and gender of Texas prosecutors. Some have reported that the profession of prosecution nationwide is overwhelmingly white males (see www.huffingtonpost.com/2015 /07/07/race-of-prosecutors-in-us_n_ 7746222.html). Indeed, one research study reported that elected prosecutors in Texas are all white men. (But looking at their research shows that they counted only one person, and he isn’t actually a prosecutor—[now former] Attorney General Greg Abbott!) So in response to these inquiries and to set the record straight, let’s take a look at Texas prosecutor demographics.
When it comes to all prosecutors in Texas, we are split nearly down the middle when it comes to gender: 52 percent are men and 48 percent are women. We don’t currently collect information about race in our membership renewals, so we don’t have that breakdown for assistants. But for elected prosecutors (334 total), 89 percent are white, 1.1 percent are African-American, and 8.9 percent are Hispanic. Twenty-one percent of our elected prosecutors are female.
Here is an interesting fact: In the top eight Texas jurisdictions by size, the breakdown of elected prosecutors are four white women, three Hispanic men, one Hispanic woman, and one white man. If you look at elected prosecutors in the largest 25 Texas counties, you’ll find 15 white men, nine Hispanic men, seven white women, two Hispanic women, and one black man. These 34 prosecutors serve nearly 20 of the 27 million Texas residents.
West Texas justice—reported in Austin?!
We are all used to the national media taking swipes at Texas every now and again. We do our best to correct the record, but so far when it comes to East Coast tabloids, we are batting zero in getting them to acknowledge a mistake. But when a columnist for my local paper, the Austin American Statesman, took out after one of our West Texas prosecutors, I’d had enough.
Columnist Ken Herman jumped on the “mass incarceration” bandwagon in November in his article headlined, “$65 crime rates man six years in prison.” Indeed, our County and District Attorney in Swisher County, Mike Criswell, had gone to a jury trial on a fella who forged a $65 check, and the jury returned a six-year prison sentence on punishment. Herman’s article derided the prosecutor for using an enhancement because the victim was elderly and ended with the question: “Tough on crime or dumb on crime?”
As a prosecutor, you know the answer to that question off the top of your head. Six years in prison for a $65 theft is reasonable because there is clearly more to this story than meets the eye. For instance, you probably already guessed that the defendant was charged with many counts, and the prosecutor convicted on one and used the others in punishment. You probably also guessed that the defendant has many, many priors. And of course he has had many shots at probation, just to blow it time and time again. You might have even guessed that the defendant took advantage of a nice old guy who didn’t have much but out of the goodness of his heart was helping an ex-con get back on his feet. Finally, you know that the prosecutor made a good plea offer that was refused before trial, and the jury came back harder. After getting the story from Mr. Criswell in Swisher County, I wrote to the columnist, Mr. Herman, to set things straight.
So what did he do when he learned all of the backstory? He agreed that the prison sentence was reasonable and acknowledged that he should have done more work to get the whole story. And he updated the online version of his article to include the details. I’m counting this as a small victory for truth, but I won’t hold out hope that The New York Times will be as amenable to listen to the whole story as our local newspaper writers are.
Congratulations to Don Clemmer
Don Clemmer, a criminal justice policy advisor to Governor Greg Abbott, has been appointed to the newly created 450th Judicial District Court in Travis County. Many of you know Don from his years of service in the criminal justice section at the Office of the Attorney General; prior to his service as an assistant AG, Don was a prosecutor in the Harris County DA’s Office. Don has been a great friend of our profession and TDCAA and will make a fine judge. Thanks for your work, Don.
Changing of the guard in Taylor County
In December, long-serving Taylor County Criminal District Attorney James Eidson ended his service by announcing his candidacy for the 42nd Judicial District Court bench. James has served as the elected CDA in Abilene for 28 years and has been a great crime-fighter. He will be missed in our profession.
He also missed out on one honor by retiring to seek a bench: The current dean of Texas district attorneys, Bruce Curry in Kerr County, has announced that he will retire at the end of 2016 after 32 years of service. If James had hung in there another year, he would have captured that honor!