Executive Director's Report
January-February 2023

Welcome to the newly elected and appointed prosecutors

By Rob Kepple
TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

In this year’s election cycle, criminal district attorneys were up for election, with district and county attorneys generally running in a presidential election year (with some exceptions). Here is the list of all the new prosecutors who have taken office by appointment in 2022 and those who took office on January 1, 2023. If these folks are your neighbors, reach out and say hi!

Jon Bates, County Attorney in San Augustine County

Jennifer Broughton, County Attorney in Brown County

Trey Brown, County Attorney in Somervell County

Courtney Cain, Criminal District Attorney in Madison County

David Chapman, County Attorney in Karnes County

Todd Dillon, Criminal District Attorney in San Jacinto County

Keith Giblin, Criminal District Attorney in Jefferson County

Kelly Higgins, Criminal District Attorney in Hays County

Michaela Kee, County Attorney in Bailey County

John Moore, Criminal District Attorney in Gregg County

Rene Montalvo, County Attorney in Starr County

Terry Palacios, Criminal District Attorney in Hidalgo County

John Price, County Attorney in Shelby County

Sara Rodriguez, Criminal District Attorney in Calhoun County

Rickie Redman, County Attorney in Lamb County

Paul Robbins, District Attorney in San Augustine and Sabine Counties

Che Rotramble, County Attorney in Wise County

Shelly Sitton, Criminal District Attorney in Polk County

Phil Sorrells, Criminal District Attorney in Tarrant County

Josh Tetens, Criminal District Attorney in McLennan County

Greg Torres, County Attorney in McCulloch County

Jon Whitsitt, County Attorney in Wilbarger County

Thanks for your service!

In the last edition of The Texas Prosecutor, I thanked some of our outgoing prosecutors for their service. I want to thank two more folks who retired at the end of 2022: Dan Heard, now the former Criminal District Attorney in Calhoun County, and Tom Watson, formerly the Criminal District Attorney in Gregg County. Thanks for your service to your communities and the state.

TDCAA leadership report

At the Annual Business Meeting in conjunction with our Elected Prosecutor Conference, TDCAA’s leadership was set for 2023. We have a great group of folks to lead the association into the new year. Here is the executive committee lineup:

            Jack Roady, Criminal District Attorney in Galveston County, Chair of the Board

            Bill Helwig, Criminal District Attorney in Yoakum County, President

            Erleigh Wiley, Criminal District Attorney in Kaufman County, President-Elect

            Kriste Burnett, District Attorney in Palo Pinto County, Secretary-Treasurer

            In addition, two at-large Board officers and four Regional Directors were elected to two-year terms:

            Joe Gonzales, Criminal District Attorney in Bexar County, Criminal District Attorney at Large

            Natalie Cobb Koehler, County Attorney in Bosque County, County Attorney at Large

            Landon Lambert, County Attorney in Donley County, Region 1 Director

            Laura Nodolf, District Attorney in Midland County, Region 2 Director

            Carlos Garcia, District Attorney in Brooks and Jim Wells Counties, Region 4 Director

            Jeff Swain, District Attorney in Parker County, Region 7 Director

            Finally, I would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to some folks who ended their Board service in December. Thanks to John Dodson, County Attorney in Uvalde County; Leslie Timmons, County Attorney in Wheeler County; Randall Sims, 47th Judicial District Attorney; Philip Mack Furlow, 106th Judicial District Attorney; John Hubert, DA in Kleberg and Kenedy Counties; and Laurie English, 112th Judicial District Attorney. They did an outstanding job of guiding the association through the pandemic years!

A new Life Member of the association

In the last edition of this journal, I wrote about our 2022 award winners, a great group of folks who richly deserved recognition. What you didn’t read about was one person whom the Nominations Committee singled out for the rarest of TDCAA recognitions:  a Life Membership in TDCAA. Under the TDCAA bylaws, this recognition can be awarded only by the entire membership at the Annual Business Meeting, held in conjunction with the Elected Prosecutor Conference.

            I am pleased to announce that Lisa Tanner is now a life member of TDCAA. Lisa began her career as an ADA in Brazos County, but the genesis of this honor is her 28-year career as an assistant attorney general in the prosecutor assistance division. Lisa didn’t just try the hardest and most challenging cases in the state—she tried them for you when you were conflicted out or needed her expertise. She was dedicated to serving the members of TDCAA and seeking justice. And even in “retirement,” she still is. Rumor is that Lisa is continuing to assist prosecutor all over the state, which is terrific. Thank you, Lisa, for all you have done and all you are still doing!

Shannon Edmonds and Sarah Halverson

I want to take a moment to thank two TDCAA staffers, Shannon Edmonds and Sarah Halverson, who hit the 20-year mark of service in 2022. Shannon and Sarah were my first two hires when I took the executive director job in 2002, and I have to say I could not have hired more hard-working, dedicated, and loyal employees. And when I say loyal, I mean loyal to you and the profession which we all serve. Thanks, and here’s to another 20!

“What You Do Matters: Lessons from the Holocaust”

“What You Do Matters: Lessons From the Holocaust” is a course produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Arizona District Attorneys Advisory Council. It was the keynote at December’s Elected Prosecutor Conference. Tough subject matter to be sure, but its focus is how in 10 years German law enforcement went from defenders of the people to an instrument of abuse toward German citizens. The cautionary note for prosecutors is that maintaining your independence is a cornerstone to the duty to serve the public. The course got excellent reviews from attendees, but one fair criticism was that it was light on specific practical suggestions. As one conference attendee wrote in an evaluation, “I enjoyed the talk, but if I am going to cry, I want some practical payoff at the end.” Fair enough—we will pass that along to the presenters.

            If you want some additional reading on prosecutor independence in Nazi Germany, you may recall a book I mentioned in this column in the past: Hitler’s First Victims: A Quest for Justice by Timothy Ryback. It tells the story of a courageous prosecutor who in 1933 sought to prosecute two SS (Schutzstaffel) guards for the murder of four Jewish prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp. It is a fascinating read about a prosecutor who tuned out all the noise around him and stuck to the facts and the law.             

Mental Health videos are up—and awesome

We want to again thank the Court of Criminal Appeals for funding our online mental health course. The first three segments are on the TDCAA website (tdcaa.com/training/#online-training), and more than 400 people have already viewed them. More segments are on the way, so if you want to hone in on mental health issues in criminal cases—for free—this course is for you. Thanks to our (now former) assistant training director Gregg Cox for developing this course.          

Law school representatives at the Elected Prosecutor Conference

At the Elected Prosecutor Conference in December, we invited people from the career services departments of several Texas law schools to spend the day visiting with prosecutors looking to recruit new assistants. By all accounts it was a success, as prosecutors got on the radar of the law schools when it comes to our job opportunities. We highly recommend doing something similar if you are having trouble getting qualified applicants for your job openings. For a good contact list, check out the article that our own Gregg Cox wrote in the May–June 2022 edition of this journal: www.tdcaa.com/journal/help-for-filling-vacant-attorney-positions.

Rise of the paralegal?

Elsewhere in this issue, you will find an article by Meredith Gross, a Certified Paralegal at the Criminal District Attorney’s Office in Rockwall County (find it HERE). It is about how paralegals can contribute greatly to the work of a prosecutor’s office, and it offers a clear roadmap on the requirements to get a certificate or become certified (those are different things—as I learned from reading the article!). As offices find ways to staff up, reduce trial backlog, and address some of the burdens of discovery under the Michael Morton Act, recruiting paralegals in addition to new assistants may be a trend in prosecutor office staffing.