Interim Update: April 2022, Part II

April 29, 2022

If “April showers bring May flowers,” what do April droughts bring?!?

Committee news

Now that the primaries are over* (*offer not valid for those in run-off elections), interim legislative committee hearings have started to study the issues assigned by their leadership. Perhaps the most noteworthy hearing this past month was a meeting of the House Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, which summoned Cameron County DA Luis Saenz to appear before them (remotely) and answer questions relating to the committee’s charge to examine “criminal procedure and due process from initial detention through appeal, including … use of prosecutorial discretion.” In reality, though, that was just the excuse to bring Mr. Saenz before the committee to answer questions about the then-pending execution of Melissa Lucio, who had been convicted and sentenced to death in Cameron County (by a prior district attorney) for the 2007 killing of her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah Alvarez. Such an event—an interim hearing called for the purpose of allowing committee members to grill a prosecutor over a pending case—is unprecedented as far as we know (and we’ve been around here a long time). Most of the media coverage of that hearing (and the case in general) has been disappointingly superficial, but for a good summary of what actually happened, we’d refer you to this article by a local news service if you want a fuller picture of what occurred at the hearing.

The execution date for Ms. Lucio was eventually stayed earlier this week by the Court of Criminal Appeals—as DA Saenz told the committee would likely happen—to allow the trial court to take up several last-minute filings by the defense. As a result, it will be many months (or years?) before Ms. Lucio faces another execution date. For our purposes, though, it will be interesting to see whether such unprecedented legislative scrutiny of a prosecutor’s handling of a pending court case becomes more common as political and social media advocacy increasingly leads to a blurring of lines between advocates’ desired ends and the means considered appropriate to achieve them.

In other committee news … the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee reviewed appointment of counsel issues relating to Operation Lone Star along the border … and the House Transportation Committee raked TxDMV officials over the proverbial coals once again for various law enforcement problems resulting from the agency’s perceived lax enforcement of laws and rules governing temporary paper tags.

Upcoming hearings

Interim charges currently posted for hearings in May include (click on the link for the full notice):

Tuesday, May 3

Senate Transportation
9:00 a.m., Room E1.016
Charges on reducing and preventing automobile crashes, driver’s license services, and alternatively-fueled vehicles (invited testimony only)

House Homeland Security & Public Safety
10:00 a.m., Room E2.028
Charges on law enforcement hiring and training, border security, officer safety, incident crime reporting, and severe weather response and recovery (invited testimony only)

Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services
10:00 a.m., Senate Chamber
(Invited testimony only)

Wednesday, May 4

House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
9:00 a.m., Room E2.010
Charge #1: Monitor agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed last session (invited witnesses only)

Monday, May 16

Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services
10:00 a.m., Senate Chamber
(Invited testimony only)

As we mentioned last month, an emerging trend among both House and Senate committees is to limit their interim hearings only to invited witnesses and demote public comment to the electronic portal brought online during the COVID-19 pandemic (if any is allowed at all). Interim committee charges have long been considered by some capitol observers as more of a launch pad for pre-determined legislation than any true “study” of an issue; limiting public input will only contribute to that perception. However, for those of you invited to participate in an interim hearing (and those of you who follow along online), this new trend will at least make them shorter now, so count your blessings!

TDCAA training update

Registration is open for the July version of our Prosecutor Trial Skills Course. If you are early in your prosecution career—or simply looking for a post-pandemic refresher—this course is for you. To manage demand and accommodate room size, attendance is limited to the first 170 who register. We are already two-thirds of the way to that maximum, so don’t delay! To register or access more information, click HERE.

If you are a more seasoned prosecutor looking to hone your skills, TDCAA is also now accepting applications for both our Advanced Appellate Advocacy and Advanced Trial Advocacy Courses. Attendance is limited and applications must be received by the posted deadline for each course. For all the details, click on those seminar links above or visit our general training webpage HERE.

TDCAA award nominations

In these times when employee retention can be a challenge, recognizing the good work being done in prosecutors’ offices is an inexpensive yet effective way to show that we value the people who work in and around our communities. To that end, TDCAA is accepting nominations over the next three weeks for potential recipients of our association’s Oscar Sherell Awards and the Suzanne McDaniel Award. For more details about how to nominate a worthy person for these awards that recognize outstanding service to the profession of prosecution, click on the link for each award. Nominations are due Friday, May 20, 2022, so don’t delay!


There were several really interesting stories related to prosecution or prosecutors this past month. Here are a few that you might’ve missed:

  • “Prosecutors wanted: District attorneys struggle to recruit and retain lawyers” (Reuters)
  • “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Texas district attorney offices would become a new battleground” (Texas Tribune)
  • “How a white cop murdering a 15-year-old black boy changed a Dallas County town” (Dallas Morning News)
  • “Crime Stoppers is using cash once spent on anonymous tip rewards for lavish salaries, travel costs” (Houston Chronicle)
  • “A rural prosecutor pledged reform. Critics say he delivered disaster.” (Washington Post)
  • “Days from Melissa Lucio execution, prosecutors chart two different paths regarding death penalty” (Brownsville Herald)

Quotes of the Month

“We’re seeing a prosecutor shortage throughout the country; it’s not limited to large jurisdictions versus small jurisdictions.”
            —Nelson Bunn, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, as quoted in a story about prosecutors’ struggle to hire and retain staff in today’ post-pandemic economy.

“In the past, people [would] curse one another, throw up the finger, and keep moving. Now, instead of throwing up the finger, they’re pulling out the gun and shooting.”
            —Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, on the post-pandemic increase in road-rage shootings in that town. At least 33 people were killed in traffic-related shootings in Texas last year, almost twice as many as in 2019.

“It’ll pass because everyone wants their marijuana.”
            —Ken Casady, with Austin Police Association labor union, giving his opinion on why there has been no organized opposition to a local ballot proposition that would prohibit Austin police officers from arresting or issuing citations for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“The score ended up being State of Texas six, Republic of Texas one. We won that ballgame.”
            —Joe Rowe, who was shot and briefly taken hostage by Republic of Texas separatists 25 years ago before the Texas Rangers ended the West Texas stand-off. For more salty quotes like that, read the entire article in The New Yorker: “Surviving the Standoff with the Republic of Texas.