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Criminal District Attorney Comal County

The statutory duties of a Criminal District Attorney include the following: Represent the State of Texas and victims of crimes in all criminal cases in the District Courts, County Courts-at-Law, and Justice Courts and in appeals therefrom. Represent the best interests of our children in Child Protective Services cases. Represent the victims of domestic abuse by obtaining protective orders against abusive family members. Represent the State of Texas and victims of crimes in ensuring that justice is rendered for juveniles accused of criminal offenses. Provide County Officials with written opinions or advice relating to the official duties of that official.
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    Steven de Lemos (Rep) Attorney/ Prosecutor

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    Joseph “Joe” Soane (Rep) Senior Assistant County Attorney / Deputy Sheriff

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    Jennifer Anne Owens Tharp (Rep) Comal County Criminal District Attorney

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    Deborah Linnartz Wigington (Rep) Attorney at Law

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Biographical Information

1 – What motivates you to run for Criminal District Attorney Comal County?

2 - One of the statutory duties of the criminal district attorney is to represent the best interests of our children in Child Protective Services cases. What processes do you support to improve the current system?

3 – How would you ensure that justice is rendered for juveniles accused of criminal offenses?

4 – If elected, one of your duties will be to represent the victims of domestic abuse by obtaining protective orders against abusive family members. Is the current system working well, or is there room for improvement? Please give examples in either case.

5 – If elected, what measurable goals would you work to achieve?

Education Bachelor of Arts Plan II Honors Program International Studies University of Texas at Austin 1986; Juris Doctorate University of Texas School of Law Fall 1989.
Experience I have eight years of general civil and criminal, juvenile, and Child Protective Services practice from 1990-1998. I have almost 20 years of very broad based prosecution experience. I started with the Comal County Criminal District Attorney's Office in June 1998. I served here almost 15 years here in Comal County where I have done and tried everything from Class C fine only misdemeanors in JP court to Class A and B misdemeanors in our county courts at law, to serious felony cases such as aggravated assault deadly weapon, family violence cases, injury to a child, aggravated sexual assault of children and murder cases as a felony prosecutor in the district courts. i have extensive experience as the family violence prosecutor with family violence protective orders, mental health commitments and orders of protective custody, arson prosecution, and Child Protective Services Prosecution. I have been a staunch and fierce protector of victims of family violence and victims of sexual and physical abuse as well as victim focused prosecution of adult sexual assault, aggravated robbery, burglary of habitation and buildings, drug dealers, violent gang members, crimes against the elderly and disabled, and murder. After resigning from the Comal County CDA's office end of March 2013, I was hired approximately a month later as a Senior Felony Prosecutor at the Guadalupe County District Attorney's Office where I handled a wide variety of similar felony offenses, supervised and trained younger prosecutors, and acted as special projects prosecutor for then Guadalupe DA Heather McMinn on tough cases for the office. After the consolidation of the District Attorney into the County Attorney's Office effective January 1, 2017, I transferred to head up the Juvenile Prosecution unit in Guadalupe County, handling juvenile felony and misdemeanor violent crimes and weapons offenses. Dave Willborn Guadalupe County Attorney wanted for me to use my experience to help the juvenile justice prosecution in Guadalupe County. I am currently still working and acting as essentially the chief Juvenile prosecutor in Guadalupe County to the present date. During my almost 20 years as a prosecutor, I have trained law enforcement and trained and mentored younger attorneys to seek justice for all. I have the most broad based experience of any candidate for Criminal District Attorney in this race.
Twitter @SteveForDA
Campaign Phone Number (830) 708-1317
Candidate Email
I am running to bring back Justice for ALL the citizens of our county. The incumbent is not filing nor disposing of cases in an efficient, fair, and just way. Currently, under the incumbent at the end of December 2017 the incumbent disposed or resolved a dismal 50.8% of our felony cases with over 300 felony cases on the jury docket and over 1400 felony cases backlogged and pending because of the poor management and leadership of the incumbent. In addition, we have over 3000 pending backlogged misdemeanor cases. We only disposed of 447 felony cases out of 769 filed in 2017 combined with a backlog of 1,167 felony cases from 2016. At the end of 2017, the incumbent had 1489 pending felony cases; we are falling further and further behind, and this means victims are not getting justice nor defendants. Justice delayed is justice denied. We also spent 1.7-1.8 million dollars on out of county jailings, wasting our tax dollars.
I intend to actively screen with my CPS prosecutors all cases brought to us to ensure that CPS is not being overly intrusive in families and to ensure that physical abuse, sexual abuse, and child endangerment cases are swiftly and effectively brought by CPS through our prosecutors. I want to actively push family members in those cases where reunification is possible to fully address the actual underlying factors leading to removal, particularly drug and alcohol abuse, boundary issues, mental health diagnosis and treatment, and individual and family violence and dysfunction. I want to move swiftly and efficiently to screen cases with physical abuse including those cases where family violence between the perpetrator and the other adult spilled over to the children and sexual abuse to dual track the CPS cases with active criminal prosecution where warranted and to seek at the earliest possible time aggravated circumstances to focus on swiftly terminating parental rights of abusers.
The key in juvenile justice is to work to make sure all intake first comes to the juvenile prosecutors and screened with discussions with Juvenile Probation to make sure that we keep only the dangerous and the flight risk juveniles in detention. I want our office to work strategically with NBISD and CISD and private schools to ensure that juveniles scholastic needs are met while ensuring full responsibility and accountability for the juvenile and the juvenile's parents and guardians. Also, I believe that the earliest we can intervene to ensure the appropriate assessment and treatment of the alcohol and substance abuse and mental health needs of the juveniles, the better our chances are to rehabilitate juveniles and keep them out of the adult system. However, depending on the age and circumstances of the crime and juvenile offenders, I also think determinate sentencing and certification in a minority of the cases ensure that the juvenile is held accountable and the public protected.
Since I have been working out of county, I am not sure if the current system is working well. I am concerned about the heavy turnover of attorneys and other personnel in the office, and I have heard that there were problems for victims in obtaining protective orders in the past and difficulties working with the Comal County Crisis Center. I know that the incumbent recently hired an attorney with grant money to do protective orders. I would expand this and make all attorneys in the district and county courts at law responsible for intaking and filing protective order applications to make sure redundancy exists, and that applicants get the protective orders that they need to ensure safety of themselves and other family or household members. I will enhance training to make sure all prosecutors in the office civil and criminal know the protective order process and can handle protective order temporary ex parte and final hearings. I will have regular contact with the Crisis Center.
If elected, I will work with new management to prioritize and eliminate our out of county jail population by obtaining jail lists Monday and Friday, and working with Mark Reynolds our Sheriff, all the judges and the defense bar to prioritize intake, filing, tough and fair plea bargaining, open plea and preindictment plea deals, and expedited court and jury settings to uncork the log jam and move and dispose of the jail cases and other cases. I will manage all of our caseload efficiently,fairly, and justly, and manage our personnel fairly. I will not micromanage but give discretion back to the prosecutors with basic guidelines and to seek justice. I will greatly increase our disposition rate and by the end of my first year in office be hopefully on track to be in the 90th percentile disposition efficiency. By the end of two years, a disposition rate over 100%, meaning we are clearing our backlog of cases from prior years, felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile. I will focus on victims.
Education Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Minor in Sociology, Southwest Texas State University 1992; Doctor of Jurisprudence, St. Mary's University School of Law 1997; Peace Officer Certification, San Antonio College Law Enforcement Training Academy 2000
Experience Private Practice engaged in family law and criminal defense 1997-1999; Assistant District Attorney, Comal County 1999-2007 (Misdemeanor Prosecutor, Chief Misdemeanor Prosecutor, Felony Prosecutor and Chief Felony Prosecutor) Senior Grant Specialist/Internal Counsel, COPsync, Inc. 2008-2010; First Assistant District Attorney, 63rd and 83rd Judicial District, 2010-2011; Senior Assistant County Attorney, Kerr County, 2011-Present; Reserve Deputy Sheriff, Comal County Sheriff's Office, 2000-Present
Campaign Phone Number (830) 476-3073
Candidate Email
For about the past year as I moved about the county, whether in an official capacity as a Deputy Sheriff or not, I was routinely asked if I would run for the position. There is a deep dissatisfaction with the current administration expressed by the citizenry and law enforcement. This dissatisfaction has culminated in the formation of citizen groups like Take Back Canyon Lake. Having the most trial experience of any candidate, as well as the most direct supervisory experience, I am most able to address the deficiencies in the current administration.
The system of referrals seems to work well. I appreciate getting an investigation completed quickly and getting the involved parties into court for review when warranted.

Most of the issues arising with the CPS revolve around adequate supervision. I’ve seen CPS personnel who are very conscientious and some who are not. My intent is to be very involved in the administration of the CPS docket and cases. When major decisions are made, especially removal of children from the home, I expect to be involved in the decision. If I don’t agree on the necessity, or feel that less stringent measures are available, such remedies will not be sought.

In addition, when a removal is necessary every effort should be made to place the child with a family member. I have seen the current administration refuse to agree to place children with family even when all are in agreement including the child’s ad litem.
The juvenile justice system is supposed to be focused on rehabilitation. Every effort needs to be toward counseling, treating all underlying psychological causative factors and equipping the child to make good decisions moving forward. The goal needs to be one of treatment and reintegration. Determinate sentences and certification proceedings should be a last resort for the violent or dangerous.

On too many occasions I have observed the current administration seek certification of juveniles to be tried as an adult for non-violent offenses such as drug possession. This is antithetical to the purpose of having a juvenile system.
I believe the system of submission and review of protective order applications is excellent. The crisis center does a fine job of collecting initial applications and vetting. This process also enables the crisis center to provide additional services to the applicant if necessary. Once the application is vetted and sent to the district attorney’s office things start to break down.

Crime statistics show that incidents of family violence are trending upward, in some cases increasing as much as 48%. However, the actual filing of applications for protective orders and thus granting of those orders has continued to decrease. This inevitably results in victims who go unprotected. This cannot continue. The district attorney’s office must be more diligent in the pursuit of protective orders and prosecution of family violence cases in general.
The DA's office must be more efficient in the disposition of cases. That is, the defendant must be tried quickly and if they are in fact going to be sentenced to the state penitentiary then they have to get there as soon as possible. Thus, the entire state helps to pay to house them, instead of just Comal County taxpayers. If the defendant is going to receive probation or other disposition, this must occur quickly to reduce jail costs. Citizens have the right to a speedy trial. After all, justice delayed is justice denied. In addition, timely disposition saves money. Finally, and most importantly, victim's needs are timely met and our most vulnerable are protected.
Education Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, Texas Lutheran University, cum laude; Juris Doctor, St. Mary's University School of Law
Experience Assistant Attorney General, Civil Litigation Division, Texas Attorney General, 2003-2004; Comal County Assistant Criminal District Attorney, 2004-2010; Comal County Criminal District Attorney, 2011-2018
Twitter @jennifer_tharp
Campaign Phone Number (830) 708-6234
Candidate Email
Victims, law enforcement, jurors, and citizens have told me they want me to defend the conservative values of this community. My dismissal rates, nature of my plea deals, and conviction rates show my office is doing just that. We maintain one of the highest conviction rates in Texas, and I am proud of the work my staff does to protect this community. I have seen families impacted by drug and alcohol, and it can be devastating. My office works with programs to get treatment for community members impacted by addiction. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing lives of community members being changed for the better through these programs. As a lifelong resident, I am blessed with growing up in a safe and thriving community. I want my children and the children of the future to experience the same freedoms, safety and security that I did as child. I want to help our county keep its conservative values and protect victims.
Since 2011, CPS cases increased 113% in Comal County. In 2015 I requested and was granted 2 new positions from Commissioners Court. I now have 2 prosecutors and 2 legal assistants dedicated to handling CPS cases. Our office works with CASA to ensure that children have their voice heard, and we fight diligently to make sure the best interest of each child is secured. We also work with CACCC so victims receive counseling and resources to help them. We are constantly working with DFPS to staff cases and improve how cases are handled. I have made the children in Comal County a priority through my work with CACCC, Comal Cops for Kids, and NBCM Kids Club. I have helped CASA to raise awareness and fundraise for their capital campaign. In 2011 CASA recognized me for dedication and support of children of Comal County. In 2017 CAC of Texas appointed me to a statewide committee to study best practices in CPS cases. I hope this committee will provide new ideas and opportunities for our children.
My office works with juvenile probation to screen every juvenile case presented by law enforcement. When handling juvenile cases we carefully review the child’s background, educational abilities and needs, family dynamic, drug and alcohol abuse, psychological evaluations, and criminal history, with the focus of providing rehabilitation and treatment, if at all possible. Some of the rehabilitative programs include inpatient and outpatient treatment, counseling services, substance abuse treatment, and equine therapy. We seek opportunities to proactively reach our youth by going to the schools and community functions with the focus of empowering our kids with knowledge to make smart choices. This past legislative session I worked on writing David’s Law, a Cyberbullying legislation to protect our children from dangerous and destructive behaviors online. Most recently, I received the Young Hearts Matter Award from Texas Council on Family Violence and a proclamation by Governor Abbott.
I have prioritized and increased the number of protective orders provided to citizens. I recognized the need for a stand alone Protective Order Prosecutor and Protective Order Victims Assistance Coordinator, and I sought and received grants for these positions from the Governor’s Office in 2017. Comal County added these new positions that are enabling more applications to be reviewed and are increasing how quickly cases are filed. The number of protective orders has almost tripled in the past five years, and we expect that number to continue to grow. We coordinate with the Crisis Center to have our victims complete applications at the Crisis Center where they can receive referrals for counseling services and assistance with other needs. We conduct trainings together, and hold joint staff meetings to ensure our agencies are working in the best interest of victims. To date I have secured $200,221 in grant funds to prevent, educate and assist victims of domestic violence.
Our biggest challenge is pressure on our resources that come from explosive population growth. Positive changes are underway in that the remodel of both the Landa Building, evacuated last year, and Courthouse Annex downtown to add more courtrooms, which will enable us to process a higher volume of cases. Additionally, District Courts have added dockets this year, so we will have additional court time to handle cases. Some goals for improvement include rolling out Odyssey eDiscovery Module, which will increase efficiency to provide to defense counsel their discovery in an electronic format and enable quicker case resolution. Next, will be implement of Odyssey eSubmission, which will enable law enforcement to present cases to my office in a digital format. These technological improvements will save time and resources for my office and law enforcement agencies, and help us to receive and process cases quicker. I believe in continual improvement and our work to be better is never done.
Education Juris Doctorate with Criminal concentration - Baylor Law School, Dean's List, 2002; BBA, with a major in Management - Southwest Texas State University, Honors Graduate, Magna Cum Laude, 1999; Canyon High School, 1996
Experience 2007-Present: Owner of Deborah Linnartz Wigington & Associates, PLLC; 2002-2007: Associate Attorney with Griffith & Associates
Campaign Phone Number (830) 627-7300
Candidate Email
This is a calling to service for me. This is not a promotion. This is not a pay raise. This is not for power, prestige, or attention. I have a thriving law practice, have never had the desire to be a politician. I have built my life around serving my family, my church, and my community. I am a successful business owner and I know that I have the skills, education, and experience to get the District Attorney's Office back on track. There are times that we step up and serve our community when we see the need. Many have seen the need for a long time. I have had many role models, mentors, leaders and they all have been servants. As a business owner and member of the legal community, I have voiced the need for change in how justice is administered and our tax dollars are spent and after prayerful consideration, I knew this is not something that I could delegate to others. It is my time to step up and serve my county.
One of the most important things we can do for our children is to ensure that we have qualified Assistant District Attorneys handling our Child Protection cases. Currently, our District Attorney Office has high turnover of employees (42 employees lost in the last seven years with a staff of 45) and once an attorney gains experience in Child Protection Court, he or she is moved to the criminal division and a new attorney is hired to replace the one taken from Child Protection Court. This Office needs effective employee management. These cases are some of the most important cases where a legal error or mistake in judgement can have serious effects on a child's safety. I will ensure that the attorneys handling these cases are experienced and knowledgeable and can not only effective represent CPS, but also effectively advise CPS. I have handled many Child Protection cases, several through jury trial, and know how important these cases are to our children's safety.
As a society, we recognize that children who commit crimes are different from adults due to their greater capacity for change. The primary focus of juvenile cases is rehabilitation and an essential part of rehabilitation is getting the child into programs quickly to assist with rehabilitation. Comal County is not currently getting juvenile cases closed in a timely manner and has not for years. This delay can lead to repeat offenses and children aging out into adult crimes. As your District Attorney, I will make juvenile crimes a priority. I will ensure that children are held appropriately accountable, taking into account their history, the severity of the crime, and their age, and get them into programs for rehabilitation quickly, working with the juvenile probation department, the courts, the children's caregivers, and the attorneys representing the juveniles. By making these cases a priority, we will be taking steps to reduce future crime in Comal County.
There is definite room for improvement. I am passionate about ensuring that our victims remain safe. I have recently met with the Comal County Crisis Center and learned that only 50% of the cases referred from the Center are accepted by our District Attorney's Office. This leaves victims in danger and hinders prosecution of the perpetrators. Victims are often hesitant to report abuse for fear that they will not be protected by the judicial system. Law enforcement can assure them that they will be protected and then when our District Attorney's Office refuses to assist them with obtaining a protective order, it results in mistrust of law enforcement and a victim less likely to report future abuse. Our District Attorney needs to take a team approach in working with our Crisis Center to ensure that victims' needs are being met and they are safe.
I will ensure that we focus on efficiently clearing cases and better use of our specialty rehabilitation courts. In 2017, we only cleared 50.8% of the felonies filed, 48.2% of juvenile cases filed, and only 35.4% of misdemeanors filed. In 2017, only 447 felony cases were cleared, with 1,167 carried forward from 2016 and 880 more filed in 2017. Over 300 cases were pending on the jury docket at the close of 2017, many with defendants in custody and the county paying for them and more are added every week. Only 26 cases were tried to a jury in 2017. In 2015 we paid $75,700 to house inmates out of county. In 2017, it was close to 1.7 million. We have specialty courts with excellent results providing rehabilitation for defendants but we are not taking advantage of those programs as we should. I will run the office like the business it is and ensure that we stick to a budget, we clear cases efficiently, we retain staff, we protect citizens and focus on justice rather than convictions.