November-December 2009

What would you do if you didn’t work in a prosecutor’s office?

Roe Wilson, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I dream about being either a famous singer or a neurologist, but I can’t sing and science is a mystery to me. So, if the Walter Mitty fantasies are discarded, what would I really do if I didn’t work in a prosecutor’s office?

I would be a forensic psychologist. I’ve encountered a staggering array of strange behaviors in the death penalty writs I’ve dealt with over the past 25 years, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) has become favorite reading. I particularly like diagnosing myself and people I know. However, I doubt if the defense would want me as an expert witness.

Josh Hill, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I would train fighters. I began training in the martial arts when I was 5 years old, started wrestling at 12, and continued training and wrestling through my first year of college. There, I started studying and competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and Muay Thai, and I’m still training and learning these arts. I also gained some valuable teaching experience as an assistant wrestling coach while in law school. I enjoy teaching and want to pass along some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years.

Warren Diepraam, Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County

The world of a vehicular crimes prosecutor can sometimes be a lonely place. I don’t mind that aspect of prosecution. Frankly, if I weren’t a prosecutor, I would be doing something involving solitude anyway, maybe as a surfing instructor on a South African or Costa Rican beach or an animal research scientist back home on the African savannah.

Studying animals and their interactions with each other in a beautiful setting can’t be beat. I have been there and experienced Africa at its most beautiful best—the calm and peace that goes along with that setting is very alluring. The same goes for being a surf instructor. Not much beats lying on a surfboard waiting for a good wave to come in, where the only sounds are the waves and the birds.

I would be at home in either place, living in a tent on the plains of Africa or on a beach in the Caribbean, waking to the birds and the calls of the wildlife. Lions, sharks, and other predators don’t worry me so much—I guess I deal with them now in court, but the setting is not as picturesque. Plus, the predators in the wild are not nearly as dangerous as the ones we face in our courts or on our streets.

Lynn Hardaway, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I would be designing and making jewelry as a full-time job, rather than a sideline. Several years ago, a fellow prosecutor and I took metal-smithing classes from a local jewelry designer, and I learned the basic steps in metal forming, soldering, and stone setting. Since then, I’ve supplemented my class experience with a lot of trial and error and one trip to the emergency room. I now have a fully-equipped studio and market my jewelry through local boutiques.

Ed McClees, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I started my legal career as a plaintiff attorney representing severely injured people and the families of those killed by other people’s wrongful actions. I left the civil world to be a prosecutor because I thought that justice can be better achieved when it isn’t limited to dollars and cents. If I weren’t a prosecutor, I would return to the civil world, even with the mountains of paperwork, because I would still be helping victims of wrongful acts.

Brent Robbins, Investigator in the Denton County Criminal District Attorney’s Office

Well, I’d be unemployed, I suppose. Oh, you mean what other employment would I attempt to obtain. (Taking phrases so literally means I’ve been hanging around attorneys too much lately!) I could be a superhero. No—I’m sure I wouldn’t look good in the tights. I could work for a state-wide agency funded by Department of Transportation, traveling across Texas teaching cops and prosecutors about DWI-related issues. No, wait, I think that job’s already taken. Perhaps a professional poker player! Maybe, but only if I could specifically include certain ADAs from the DFW area and specifically exclude certain investigators from Lubbock in the tournaments.

I suppose I could always go back to being a street cop. After my first three months as an investigator with this office, I seriously thought about doing just that because I had learned so much about the Code of Criminal Procedure and courtroom issues (things I’d done as an officer that I shouldn’t have done and things I didn’t do that I should’ve) that I would’ve been 10 times the street cop I had been. But then I remembered working from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve in 28-degree temperatures and directing traffic at crash scenes for hours in August while wearing a ballistic vest. Not sure if I could handle those parts of the job again.

But for the past four years, in addition to my normal duties, I have been teaching police officers. There is something very rewarding about teaching something new to someone, then seeing the results down the road. When I review cases and see that officers are doing things and asking questions that I know came from one of my classes, it gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I think most police officers joined the profession to change the world and rid their communities of crime. It doesn’t take long to realize that there’s only so much one cop can do. Having the opportunity to help other officers do their part to fight crime (by doing better investigations, writing better reports, making better cases, etc.) would allow me to continue to affect my little slice of the world. If I couldn’t work here, I would head to the nearest police academy and become an instructor.

Spence Graham, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I would be a professor, either of law or maybe even an unrelated topic. I enjoy teaching young prosecutors—teaching is rewarding because it helps students view something about their world in a different light. I’m grateful for the knowledge and wisdom given to us, and I believe that we are responsible for passing it on to future generations.

Suzanne Elmilady, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I would be practicing human rights law and working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) or the United Nations if I weren’t a prosecutor. Specifically, I would focus on being a civil servant in underdeveloped countries, helping create stable infrastructures with a focus on education and global awareness.

Charles E. Orbison, Appellate Attorney in the Denton County Criminal District Attorney’s Office

I would probably be teaching journalism or law at a college or university. When I became a licensed attorney in 1999, I left my position as a broadcast journalism instructor at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Although I began law school with the idea of practicing or teaching communications law, it didn’t take long to develop a strong interest in criminal law, and I had no doubt which side I wanted to represent. As a state’s appellate attorney, I can fight the good fight in an area to which I am most suited. It’s been a good ride. Maybe someday I will return to the classroom to teach criminal law, but for now, the work keeps me fully challenged and satisfied. There’s no other job I’d rather have.

Catherine Evans, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

I credit my high school teachers with exposing me to different cultures, concepts, and lifestyles. Teaching high school students would give me the same opportunity to open a new world to teenagers. Prosecutors are always mopping up after the unthinkable happens. We sometimes offer closure and comfort to a family, but that doesn’t change what brought them to the courthouse in the first place. It would be amazing to help guide a student, if only every now and then, toward a different path. i