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July-August 2010

Wrapping up the TDCAA 2006 Long Range Plan—and starting a new one

Rob Kepple

TDCAA Executive Director in Austin

The history of TDCAA has been one of slow and careful growth. Your association leadership has wisely chosen to plot our path through a series of five-year plans to make sure that we are meeting our members’ needs and to regularly re-evaluate how we do our business.

At the Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update in September, the association will officially conclude activities under the 2006 Long Range Plan when the first Victim Assistance Coordinator Section board is chosen and seated. Four years ago our leadership committed the association to better help prosecutors serve crime victims, and a keystone to that effort was to create a section to work in tandem with that of the Key Personnel.

The new section board will be instrumental in guiding the efforts of Suzanne McDaniel, TDCAA’s Victim Services Director, whose position is funded through the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation—yet another example of how our leadership plans and executes the development of services that will improve our profession in the decades to come.

Other achievements from the 2006 Long-Range Planning (LRP) Committee include creating the senior appellate attorney position, which allowed us to bring on John Stride to assist all prosecutors in the consistent development of Texas criminal jurisprudence. In addition, we have revamped the TDCAA website, developed timely case summaries emailed to more than 1,900 subscribers every week, improved our speaker databases and speaker support, and increased ethics training opportunities.

This fall we will be launching a new five-year long range plan. The focus, as always, will be on service to our members. I’d sure like to hear from you as we organize this new LRP effort over the summer. What do you need to do your job better? How can your association help? Do we need to change how we are doing something? Is there something you need that you think we can provide? Would you like to be involved in the long range plan? Just give me a call or e-mail me at [email protected]

TDCAA Annual Business Meeting

The TDCAA Annual Business Meeting will be held in conjunction with our Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22, at the South Padre Island Convention Centre. The meeting will include the election of officers for 2011 as well as other business. This year, caucuses will elect regional board representatives to two-year terms for the following regions: Region 1 (currently held by Lynn Switzer, the DA in Pampa); Region 2 (currently held by Bobby Bland, the DA in Odessa); Region 4 (currently held by Martha Warner, the DA in Beeville); and Region 7 (currently held by Staley Heatly, the DA in Vernon). (See the map, below, for a regional breakdown.) If you have an interest, call one of those folks or me to get the scoop on TDCAA board service.

Foundation Annual ­Campaign’s first-round winner!

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone—and I mean everyone—in the Ector County District Attorney’s Office for rising to the occasion by recently sending in a donation to the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation’s 2010 Annual Campaign! Ector County joins other counties, such as Walker County and Ellis County, in sending in a donation that represents 100-percent participation from the folks in the office. We are so grateful!

As I noted above, the association can’t do all of the things you need us to do without being creative when it comes to funding, and the foundation has proved to be a great additional source for that support. Your donations of any amount form the basis of that effort, and every little bit helps. Thanks a ton to all of you—it is because of this support that we will have a safer Texas!

Hiring in the fall?    

Even in this tight economy, prosecutor jobs are opening around the state. If you are looking to hire a new prosecutor this fall after bar results are in, check in with me first. The TDCAA Recruitment, Diversity, and Retention Committee has participated in on-campus interviews at various law schools around Texas, and we have a list of top candidates who have already been interviewed and ranked. There are some very good law students out there who really want to be prosecutors, and we know who they are and can connect you with them.

Student loan repayment progress report   

Congress has authorized the first disbursements under the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program. That is great news, even if the amount dedicated to the program, $10 million nationwide, is modest.  Right now various Texas state officials are working out the details of managing the program and developing a framework for the loan repayments, so all we can ask you to do is keep an eye on the TDCAA website.  We will publish any information you need as soon as it becomes available.  And keep in mind that even if the amount of reimbursement is limited right now, we would like to see a solid program developed so that can accommodate growth of the program into the future. If you have any questions, just call me or email me at [email protected], and we will fill you in as best we can.   

Is it a crime to be ugly?

As prosecutors, we are accustomed to challenges that those of us who work in the criminal justice system and even the system itself are biased in different ways. Many studies have sought to explore racial and gender bias in various situations, and these studies have produced mixed results over time.

But a new study reveals the prospect of a very troubling bias in the system—a bias against ugly.

Heaven knows why, but Cornell University just released a study concluding that unattractive defendants are 22 percent more likely to be convicted and on average serve 22 percent more time in jail.

The study, called “When Emotionality Trumps Reason” and published by Cornell graduates Justin Gunnell and Stephen Ceci, contends that jurors make decisions both rationally and emotionally and that a defendant’s attractiveness plays a role in that. The study contends that in slam-dunk cases and those involving serious felonies, a defendant’s appearance doesn’t make any apparent difference in how often he’s convicted or for how long he’s sentenced, but with minor crimes and in close cases, it looks like pretty people have the edge.  

It reminds me of that Jerry Harrison song, “Man With A Gun” whose lyrics go: “Pretty girl, young man, old man, man with a gun / the rules do not apply.” Not to fear though:  I have asked W. Clay Abbott, our DWI Resource Prosecutor and expert in-house ethics trainer, to develop some new training using US and People magazines and the National Enquirer as training materials to sensitize us to this new potential bias in our criminal justice system.