Thursday, February 23, 2006

Here's a nice surprise: DAs race in Hays County focuses on solutions

Texas' legislation to deal more sensibly with low-level offenders may have been vetoed in 2005, but even if that legislative battle was lost, how Texans talk about such issues in the political arena may be changing.

A case in point: Three people including a commenter (Thanks, David!) excitedly let me know about a
TV news story today covering the GOP primary race in Hays County for District Attorney. Hays is a suburban/rural county south of Austin whose county seat is San Marcos. Both Repub candidates distanced themselves from the "merciless" approach of their predecessor to talk about diversion programs for low-level offenders, the best focus for valuable jail space and how to spend criminal justice resources to maximize safety. Reported Channel 8 News:
When it comes to prosecuting criminals, very little separates the priorities of Hays County Republican District Attorney candidates Wesley Mau and Paul Velte IV.

"We need to focus our real efforts in the trials that we do, on the hard core criminals like child molesters, rapists and murders," said Mau.

Velte agreed and said, if elected, he would spend time making room for those criminals.

"I'd get people out of jail that really don't need to be there. What we need to do is conserve jail space for the people that you and I need protection from," Velte said.

Both Velte and Mau said the current district attorney, Michael Wenk, has handled all cases, big and small, with the same merciless approach throughout his two terms. That, in addition to a growing county, has resulted in a backlog in cases both plan to address.

"I think if you manage your cases well and you work your cases early and resolve them before people arrive to can reduce a whole bunch of that backlog," Velte said.

Mau agreed and said he plans to look at different techniques of moving cases through the process.

"We need to look at some of the new research on how to deal with cases and find out what's the best way to handle different kinds of crimes and rehabilitate those you're interested in rehabilitating," Mau said.

Let me tell, you, the DA's association could only benefit from more members in it who respect words like "research" and "rehabilitation" or who look at jail populations wondering who "really needs to be there" - in the past, DAs were the first ones at the Lege to fight the least reforms affecting their fiefdoms. That's how we got in this mess.

Regular readers know I've spent a lot of time gathering examples of different ways Texas counties can combat overincarceration in local jails - a problem exacerbated by overflowing state prisons, wasted beds from entrepeneurial schemes, then Hurricane Rita. At the local level, these problems may have reached a tipping point where they're simply too important to ignore any longer. Maybe that makes them safe to talk about. That both DA candidates in a GOP primary look at it that way (and they come from very different legal backgrounds) says to me there's a growing consensus in Hays County that it's time for a change in appoach.

If the Democrat in the race turns around and runs a bunch of tuff-on-crime ads against the Rs over this I'll be mad as a wet hen.


Anonymous said...

Kelly Higgins say:

Nice post. I wrote a while back about my Bastrop client who couldn't get to ASH. Update on that: he's to be transferred tomorrow, after I asked the judge to allow us to move him to a private facility.

Well, I have a few Bastrop clients, but the bulk of my work is in Hays County. I am familiar with Wes Mau (the heir apparent) and with the Dem opponent Sheri Tibbe. The race should be very interesting. The local establishment seems to be behind Mr. Mau. But the local anti-establishment seems to support Mr. Velte, of whom I know nothing except that he's a Republican.

Mau is a decent guy. He dismisses things that need dismissing, although that usually only happens 10 minutes before the jury is to be selected. Mau is smart, polite, and seems to know his business. I believe him when he says he wants to focus on serious crime. But this begs the question: what is serious?

It's true that the present DA is tough. But I honestly think Hays is tired of that. Mau has said as much in semi-private conversations.

Sheri Tibbe is a Travis County prosecutor, having worked for both the County Attorney and the District Attorney. I have butted heads very hard with her, but only on cases where that was foreseeable. I think she's generally reasonable, and I know that a breath of Travis County perspective would be a boon to Hays County. I'm putting a Tibbe sign in front of my office in Kyle.

Velte is an unknown quantity, and I don't think he's likely to prevail in the primary. But he will force Mau to spend some dough up front. That may bode well for Tibbe.

I'd be shocked to see tough on crime TV ads from Tibbe. If that happens, I'll support Mau. I know for certain that he's tired of the status quo and honestly wants to re-prioritize the caseloads here.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Congrats, I hope, but I'm not sure I understand your client's outcome. Is he actually going into a private facility for evaluation, or did the judge wedge him into an ASH spot?

And thanks for the Hays County intel - glad to hear you like the D there (I don't know her), and which R's are which. Let me know what you think of that race as we go along.

Anonymous said...

Mau and Wenk are simply switching desks, even though the Hays County Republican Party ran Mike Wenk out of office. Mau is another Wenk, don't kid yourself. Wenk will be pulling the puppet strings. They are both mean-spirited men with no regard to accurate investigations and fair treatment This county has become a police state on par with Williamson County, thanks to the meaness and cruelty of these 2 men.