Executive Director's Report
March-April 2010

Two new staffers to serve prosecutor offices

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

Plenty of our members still remember when “prosecutor training and assistance” meant that someone in your own office handed you his yellow legal pad with his best voir dire questions written out. Today, our association of 6,000-plus members grows and develops services according to a series of five-year long-range plans. The current TDCAA Long Range Plan, adopted in 2006, calls for the association to ramp up services in direct advocacy and victim assistance.

I am very pleased that at the beginning of this year, TDCAA leadership (with money from the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation) has funded two new positions at TDCAA designed to meet your needs in appellate advocacy and victim assistance.

John Stride hails from the Denton County Criminal DA’s Office and will be telecommuting from his farm four miles north of Krum for the foreseeable future as our new senior appellate attorney. His job duties (which are outlined in more detail on page 10) include answering critical questions, writing a regular column in this journal (see his first one on page 11), and identifying important appellate issues for the membership as a whole. We are so grateful to have him on board! Welcome, John.

The other area that will have newly dedicated staff support is victim services. The legislature made victim assistance part of prosecutors’ statutory duties decades ago, but the funding has never been there to fully support your efforts. TDCAA leadership has made this a priority by creating a new staff position dedicated to the training and support of victim assistance. I am pleased to announce that TDCAA hired Suzanne McDaniel as TDCAA’s first Victim Services Director. Many of you know Suzanne from her former position at the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Services Division. You may not know that Suzanne served under legendary former Harris County DA Carol Vance as the first DA office victim assistance coordinator in the state. She brings a wealth of experience and energy to this new position and will operate much like our DWI road warrior, W. Clay Abbott, in bringing training and support directly to you in your jurisdiction. You can reach her at [email protected].

A new voice at TDCAA

When you call TDCAA, you are likely to speak first with our new receptionist, Naomi Williams. Naomi, a Texas State Bobcat, has worked in the legal and non-profit world before, so she’s primed and ready to work for TDCAA and to help you. Make sure you give her a warm welcome to the profession when you call!

Clay Abbott’s reputation precedes him—literally

By now most of you have benefitted from training by W. Clay Abbott, our TxDoT-funded DWI Resource Prosecutor. Clay travels the state in his red convertible—his office away from the office—training prosecutors and police on the latest DWI law, procedures, and best practices.

Apparently he is getting pretty well-known in law enforcement circles. Not long ago, returning from a long swing through West Texas, Clay was pulled over by a local officer for a chat—something to do with the speed limit dropping from 70 to 35 in town. The officer instantly recognized Clay, and the temporary road-side detention turned into a discussion of some legal issues that had been bothering the officer.

Clay eventually went on his merry way, all the more mindful of those pesky speed drops in every town. In fact, he was sure he was following the speed limit when in the next town he was stopped a second time. This office didn’t have a ticket for Clay—he had DWI questions. The first cop had called ahead to give the second officer a heads-up that the DWI expert was on his way into town.

And so it went, all the way back to Austin. Clay was pulled over four times on that trip—not for moving violations but rather to administer roadside CLE to traffic cops. I’ve advised him to start traveling with a TCLEOSE sign-in form so at least the officers can get a little in-service training credit.

Overheard in Court

Many in the legal profession were saddened to hear of the death of Judge Jerry Buchmeyer, a long-serving federal judge in the Northern District of Texas. He was well-known for his article in the Texas Bar Journal, “Et Cetera,” which featured humorous exchanges overheard in court.

Good news:  Missy Medary, a municipal judge in Corpus Christi and a former ADA, is keeping the spirit of humor alive with a new website, www.overheardincourt.com. This site is already very active with great courtroom exchanges, and my guess is we all have some good ones to add.   

From the mouths of baby prosecutors

At TDCAA every seminar, our training staff solicits information from attendees through a questionnaire. The TDCAA Training Committee, chaired this year by Christi Jack (ADA in Tarrant County), and our staff reads through each one to get ideas for improving courses and meeting our members’ needs.

We got some great suggestions from those attending the January Prosecutor Trial Skills Course (whom we affectionately call “baby prosecutors”). One requested help on three issues: 1) a huge volume of work, 2) a judge who doesn’t follow the law, and 3) law enforcement resistance to conducting full and complete investigations. Imagine having those three problems all at once in a jurisdiction! I was a little disappointed to read this, though, because I would have thought that those three problems would have been solved in the 20 years since I worked as a baby prosecutor. I hope someone comes up with the solution soon so we can train on it and be done with it once and for all!

Mark your calendar for Guarding Texas Roadways

Many of you participated in a ground-breaking seminar in our 2008 DWI Summit called Guarding Texas Roadways. Thanks to the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation and the tremendous work, energy, and support of the Anheuser-Busch Companies, we trained more than 1,400 Texas prosecutors and law enforcement officers all around the state in a live, interactive program broadcast from the A-B studios in St. Louis to 34 A-B distributorships across Texas.

By popular demand, the second statewide DWI summit will take place on Friday, November 12, 2010. And the success of the first event has gained national attention: This time around, the program will not only be broadcast in Texas but also in other states from New York to California. I want to thank the Foundation and the great support from Anheuser-Busch—we know the 2010 DWI Summit will surpass its predecessor. Stay tuned for more details.

Three of our finest

In the last few months we have lost some of our finest. I would be remiss if I did not honor their commitment to justice and what these three folks have done for their communities and for Texas.

Bill Jennings, who passed away in October, was a fine Criminal District Attorney in Gregg County for 16 years before taking the bench. He was well-respected, and his passing is a great loss to the courthouse community in Longview. Bill died of a sudden heart attack while piloting a sailboat in a race, which led a friend to note, “He certainly wouldn’t have picked the time, but he wouldn’t have argued about the location.”

I am also saddened to report on the recent passing of Ann Forman, a child abuse prosecutor at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office for 17 years. Anne represented the State, DFPS, and kids in court—perhaps a thankless job at times, but the recently announced downward trend in child abuse cases nationwide can be attributed to those who stand between kids and those who hurt them, and that included Ann. That puts her in the superhero category in my mind.

Finally, we lost David Laibovitz, another Travis County Assistant District Attorney who left us too early. David was the community prosecutor and liaison with the Austin Police Department, as well as a great faculty advisor and speaker for TDCAA. David was a beloved man and great supporter of Longhorn sports, as evidenced by the well wishes and phone calls he got from folks all over the state, including UT Football Coach Mack Brown.

We will miss these three crime-fighting superheroes and will need to pick up where they left off.

The 2010 Prosecutor Combine

In February 2009, members of the TDCAA Diversity, Recruitment, and Retention Committee interviewed 3l law students during the Public Service Consortium at the University of Texas School of Law. The idea was to interview those who wanted to be prosecutors and help direct the “hot prospects” to offices with job openings in November, after the students passed the bar. Think of it like the National Football League’s combine where representatives of all the teams gather to evaluate the top college players at one time.

We just finished the second combine in January, and I can report that a group of law students set to graduate this spring are going to make great prosecutors. Over two days of interviews we evaluated and ranked 30 students, and there is a strong group of “must hires” in this group. The committee will keep tabs on those students over the coming months, and when you are in need of a new lawyer this fall (or an intern this summer!), just call me if you need a rundown of our top picks for 2010.