Texas’ New Prosecutors

February 02, 2017 by

The Marshall Project recently profiled a number of newly elected District Attorneys.

Unlike their opponents and predecessors, they didn’t use the hardline law enforcement rhetoric that has typically prevailed in these down ballot races. Rather, they campaigned on things such as issuing lighter sentences where appropriate, marijuana decriminalization or cite and release, and putting juveniles back into the juvenile system as opposed to the adult system.

“Since criminal justice happens mostly in states and counties, these policy shifts could have greater impact than anything President Trump does in Washington,” said Eli Hager of the Marshall Project.

The newly elected DAs in Harris and Travis counties made the list, but there were a few others who should have been acknowledged as well.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg

Ogg ousted Devon Anderson for the spot atop one of the largest District Attorney’s offices in the country.

Hager said, “Kim Ogg campaigned on a left-leaning platform of support for Black Lives Matter and scaling back prosecution of marijuana possession. Days after taking office, she began reorganizing her staff to meet those goals.”

After taking office, Ogg, as expected, dismissed a number of staff from the previous administration, many of whom were involved in botching high-profile cases that left the public outraged. She then brought in a number of well-known Harris County defense attorneys to fill out the ranks.

Ogg campaigned on seeking justice rather than criminal convictions, so to ensure that, she created the office’s first Office of Professional Integrity. The office is intended to serve as a resource for the employees of the department, advising them on ethics and professionalism.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore

Moore came into office following retiring District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who made the news when she was arrested for drunk driving. One of Moore’s first efforts was to redesign the staff to her liking; she fired 28 personnel and reclassified 13 others.

Moore campaigned heavily on transparency, and having followed through with that, she is now asking district judges to assign special grand juries to police-involved shootings in an attempt to reduce the perception of bias.

Similar to Ogg, Moore created a new unit reporting directly to her, a Civil Rights Unit. She also wants to breathe new life into the district’s Public Integrity Unit, which is timely since one of Moore’s first high-profile cases is against 12-term State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D- Austin) who was recently indicted on multiple ethics violations.

Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez

 By far the most unconventional newly elected District Attorney is Gonzalez who is a self-professed, “Mexican biker lawyer covered in tattoos.” Among his many tattoos, he has “Not Guilty” across his chest. He also has a portrait of Moses on his forearm, a reference to his nickname “the Mexican Moses” because of his record of “setting his clients free.”

Of his “Not Guilty” tattoo, Gonzalez said, “Every prosecutor should have that tattooed on their heart. Until I prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt, everyone accused of a crime is not guilty.”

Gonzalez was a long shot for District Attorney: at 37 he was a career defense attorney who had never prosecuted a case. “The best offense is a strong defense,” Gonzalez is fond of saying, and he wanted to run to fix issues leftover from the outgoing administration like case backlogs and delays when it came to turning over evidence to the defense.

He got into law after being arrested for driving while intoxicated when he was 19. Unable to get an attorney, he brought his mother to court who advised him to be honest and plead guilty for a favorable deal from the prosecutors. He said after doing that and seeing another lawyer succeed in having the same charge dismissed for a Navy Pilot, he decided he wanted to help people in situations similar to his.

Gonzalez plans to personally try a case per month to show his prosecutors that he is on the front lines with them. He said, “I’m not here to get convictions. I’m not here to ruin lives. I’m here to make sure that justice is done and that the community is a better place, a safer place, a fair and just place.”

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson

 Upon Johnson’s appointment, she became the first African-American Female District Attorney in Dallas County history. She was appointed to fill the vacancy left by former Dallas County DA, Susan Hawk.

Johnson’s first issues to tackle were transparency and accessibility.

She said she wants to create satellite offices throughout the sprawling 900 square mile county to be closer to residents, and use community prosecutors to fill those spots making it easier for people to file cases. She also said one of her first tasks will be to fill the vacancy at the head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, which focuses on exonerating wrongful convictions. 

Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf

Newly elected, Nodolf said her duty is to, “lead by example and establish the highest ethical standard by which cases are prosecuted.” She continued, “I have a duty to both the victims of crimes and the offenders to ensure that the rule of law, the truth and justice remain at the forefront of prosecution.”

Nodolf says she has, and will continue, to make difficult decisions that some people and law enforcement may not like. She was also a key part in ensuring the DA’s office went paperless and will further that goal because it not only saves taxpayer dollars, but allows the office to move cases quickly and efficiently.

She plans to expand Midland County’s pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders, which she was involved in developing, and expand the use of diversion courts.

“I strive to show compassion, understanding and honesty with victims of a crime. I want to expand our victim services to include a restitution specialist.”

Whether through appointment or election, Texas has ushered in a new wave of District Attorneys with various prosecuting philosophies. Some with judicial experience, others with defense experience, some in rural areas and others in urban. But the point is, regardless of what goes on in Washington, justice reform starts—and has the most impact – on the local level.

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About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.