Executive Director's Report
November-December 2009

The 2009 Texas Prosecutor of the Year (times two)

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

At the 2009 Annual Conference, we announced and awarded the State Bar Criminal Justice Section Prosecutor of the Year honor. This year, though, the TDCAA Nominations Committee, TDCAA Board, and State Bar Criminal Justice Section bestowed two awards: to Richard Alpert (assistant criminal district attorney in Tarrant County), and John Bradley (district attorney in Williamson County).

And for good reason. You might recall in my last Executive Director’s Report, I talked about the biggest innovation in law enforcement in a long time: mandatory blood draws to support DWI prosecutions. Law enforcement and prosecutors, long frustrated with the lack of evidence in DWI cases—due in large part to the defense bar’s success in convincing folks that it was worth the license suspension not to provide a breath sample—have been working hard, both at the capitol, behind their desks, and in the courtroom, to get that forensic evidence from defendants and into trials. Bradley and Alpert have been instrumental in that accomplishment.

First, properly trained police and prosecutors all around the state started getting search warrants for blood when DWI suspects refused to provide breath samples. Some smaller jurisdictions could procure warrants for every DWI stop, while in other jurisdictions the warrants were sought only on holidays or over certain weekends. Prosecutors who participated in these “no refusal weekends” report a staggeringly high percentage of intoxicated drivers, many with double the legal blood-alcohol concentration.

Second, major changes in statute were made during the 2009 Legislative Session to expand the list of situations requiring blood draws. (See the September-October 2009 issue of this journal for an entire article on the new law.)

So when it comes time to recognize the people behind these powerful developments, the Nominations Committee had an interesting situation. Educating police and prosecutors on how to run a blood-draw program has been phenomenal, and now that blood draws (in many instances) are mandatory, even more training is necessary.

Everyone in the association recognizes Richard Alpert’s work to train law enforcement and prosecutors in the area of DWI, and in particular in the proper method of conducting blood draws in DWI investigations. And John Bradley was a force during the 81st Legislative Session to expand the mandatory blood statute. I recall the old saw that there are 400 ways to kill a bill and only one way to pass it; John fought off about 350 of those bill-killers to ensure that the ground-breaking DWI bill was made into law.

Congratulations to the Prosecutors of the Year! Thank you for all of your hard work.

A Texas Lone Star

Another major TDCAA award is the Lone Star Prosecutor Award, which recognizes outstanding work by a prosecutor in the trenches. It honors the type of work that may not grab headlines but is nonetheless a tribute to the profession.

This year, our Lone Star prosecutor is Katrina Daniels, an assistant criminal district attorney in Bexar County. Judge Susan Reed, criminal district attorney in Bexar County, described her as an energetic and dedicated prosecutor. Randall Sims, the district attorney in Potter County who co-presented the award, noted that during the legislative battles over the journalist shield bill, Daniels often worked through the night to draft and redraft proposal after proposal. That kind of dedication to a difficult task is worthy of recognition. Congratulations, Katrina. I’m glad you are a Texas prosecutor.

TDCAA leadership report

At the 2009 Annual TDCAA Business Meeting held in conjunction with the annual conference in Corpus Christi, TDCAA members elected the association leadership for 2010. On January 1, 2010, current president Barry Macha (criminal district attorney in Wichita County) will become chairman of the board. C. Scott Brumley (county attorney in Potter County), will take the reins as president. Mike Fouts (district attorney in Haskell County) will be president-elect, and Joe Brown (the criminal district attorney in Grayson County) will be the secretary/treasurer.

In addition to the executive committee positions, the district attorney at-large position will be filled by Henry Garza (district attorney in Bell County). The assistant prosecutor at-large will be Terri Moore (first assistant criminal district attorney in Dallas County). In regional caucuses, Eddie Arredondo (county attorney in Burnet County) was elected as the Region 3 Director, Lee Hon (criminal district attorney in Polk County) was elected as the Region 5 Director, Doug Lowe (criminal district attorney in Anderson County) was elected as the Region 6 Director, and Larry Allison (county and district attorney in Lampasas County) was elected as the Region 8 Director.

I’d like to take this chance to thank the folks who will be going off the board for their service to the association: Bill Turner (district attorney in Brazos County), Cheryll Mabray (county attorney in Llano County), Elmer Beckworth (district attorney in Cherokee County), and Elizabeth Murray-Kolb (county attorney in Guadalupe County). Being on the board is always a lot of work, especially during a legislative year, and the association’s members are grateful for your leadership.

A new emphasis on domestic violence

We have come a long way in the realm of domestic violence now that we recognize the problem and address it in statute and in prosecution. But the DA’s office in El Paso has taken current laws and added a new element to the mix: speed.

The key to the new effort is to reach the victim quickly, which means that teams of investigators and victim advocates specializing in domestic violence cases get to the victim’s house within 24 hours of the complaint. Is the offender there too? Sometimes. But according to Jaime Esparza, district attorney in El Paso County, this quick outreach and connection with the victim has led to much better results with their cases.

The El Paso program will be a topic of conversation at the Elected Prosecutor Conference in Fort Worth in December. If you want to know more now, you can check out the story on the NPR program Latino USA at latinousa.kut.org/858/ (scroll down to see the story on El Paso).

Loan forgiveness news

Last issue, I told you about the income-based repayment (IBR) program, which prescribes student loan payments according to a person’s income. As this Prosecutor went to press, we learned that if a debtor does not pay off his loans adjusted under the IBR program within 25 years, some of the forgiven debt becomes taxable income. No one expects that student loan debt will survive for 25 years, but this is a good reminder to read the fine print!  A bill that would delete that taxable-income status after 25 years, H.R. 2492, is pending in Congress. We will keep you informed.

Prosecutors bubbling up

A couple of our folks have recently been appointed to leadership positions of note. Joe Brown (criminal district attorney in Grayson County) is now on the Texas Youth Commission Board, and John Bradley (district attorney in Williamson County) has been appointed Chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Congratulations to you both.

New TDCAA staffers

In the last edition of The Texas Prosecutor journal, we said goodbye to John Brown, our longtime director of operations and financial officer. Just recently, we hired William Calem to take over that position. William was the grants program administrator for the Court of Criminal Appeals and has served as the director of administration and finance and the chief fiscal officer of the Texas Ethics Commission. He brings tremendous experience and energy to the association! We don’t know about his ping-pong skills yet, but spring training will start soon enough.

We also recently hired a new, um, old database manager, Lara Brumen Skidmore. As you might recall, Lara was in that position for many years before moving with her family to Washington several months ago. Once the job opened up again, she eagerly accepted the offer and can even work from home in Washington, thanks to this little thing called the Internet. Lara, welcome home!

Stuck again?

From the News of the Weird, y’all may recall one of the creepiest crime stories ever:  the case of the woman who, while driving drunk at night, struck a homeless man and parked her car in the garage with the guy still stuck in the windshield. Without medical attention, the man eventually died. Tarrant County prosecutors Christy Jack and Richard Alpert tried the case to a 50-year sentence back in 2003, and the story was recently made into a movie. Stuck, billed as “the best man-stuck-in-a-car-windshield movie ever,” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Incidentally, what are the odds that the same type of crime would happen again—in Texas, no doubt? Apparently, the odds are strong to very strong. Grand Prairie police report that in August, Vincent Riojas hit a man riding his bicycle, who was thrown into the car’s windshield, flipped him over the roof and through the back window, where he became lodged in the car’s backseat. Instead of stopping to care for the injured man or heading straight to the hospital, Riojas kept going and actually pulled the cyclist, Ronnie Keller, onto the rear floorboard to hide him. And once again, the victim was discovered too late to save his life.

More proof that real crime dramas aren’t ever going to run out of material.