Joe began his legal career by practicing family law his first full year in practice. Joe then worked as a trial prosecutor with the Bexar County District Attorney’s office from 1990 to 1992, and then returned to work in that office from 1995 until 1998, under District Attorneys Fred Rodriguez and Steve Hilbig , where he prosecuted both misdemeanor and felony cases and tried well over 100 jury trials as an Assistant District Attorney.
In 1992, Joe’s wife began her own law school journey which required them to move to Houston, Texas. While in Houston, Joe served as a Harris County Assistant Criminal District Attorney until they returned to San Antonio in 1995. While serving in Harris County, Joe gained valuable trial experience handling serious felonies and was promoted to court chief prosecutor in one of Harris County’s juvenile courts.
Upon leaving the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office in 1998, Joe opened his law practice, The Law Offices of Joe D. Gonzales, where he has continued to work as a criminal defense attorney for the last 22 years. Joe has also served as a Magistrate and Municipal Judge for the City of San Antonio for 7 years. Altogether, Joe has almost 30 years in the practice of criminal law, having experienced both sides of the bar as well as a former member of the Judiciary.
I am the product of a single-parent household where my mother raised four boys on a modest salary. My greatest motivation to become an attorney is her constant encouragement and belief which she imparted to her children that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their social status. I was educated in San Antonio my entire life, having attended the majority of my schooling in Edgewood. I went on to obtain a B.A. in Political Science from St. Mary’s University and my Law Degree from St. Mary’s Law School in 1988. I am celebrating 30 years of practice, having spent my entire career as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. Part of the experience that qualifies me for this position is that I have been a criminal law practitioner twice as long as my opponent and have abundantly more trial experience. I have tried approximately 200 jury and non-jury trials in my career. Moreover, I was a Magistrate Judge for the City of San Antonio for 7 years.
The plea bargaining process works best when there is competent counsel on both sides of the case. What will often occur is that an accused will be appointed an attorney that is underqualified to adequately represent his or her client. I believe that more must be done to ensure that those accused of crimes, especially, violent offenses are appointed competent counsel. I would suggest a better system of vetting competent counsel and providing compensation commensurate with their experience. Likewise, we must remove the incentive for a jail mate to accept a plea bargain, even though they may be innocent, simply because they do not want to sit in jail awaiting their trial date.
The most obvious way to maintain transparency in any organization is open and honest communication. The recent incident where Nico Lahood banned the San Antonio Express-News from the Genene Jones press conference because he was displeased with their negative reporting of his office is exactly how NOT to deal the issue of transparency. I would strive to have an open door policy with the media and ensure that my office maintained an honest and complete disclosure of the activities of the District Attorney’s office.
3+ years as DA
12+ years as defense counsel
Former special prosecutor
I graduated from Central Catholic Marianist High School and earned a B.A. in Finance and Financial Services from St. Mary’s University before earning my Juris Doctorate from St. Mary’s School of Law. For 13 years I worked as a defense attorney and had a front row seat to see the ways the DA’s office and our justice system could be improved. I am a board member for Child Safe, The Bexar County Family Justice Center, the Rape Crisis Center, and Crosspoint, Inc. My work was recognized by “Law & Politics” and “Texas Monthly” as a “Rising Star”. Prior experience includes serving as special prosecutor for Bexar, Karnes, Medina, and Wilson Counties, Magistrate Judge in Bexar County, and adjunct professor at St. Mary’s School of Law, and lecturer at the SAPD academy and AACOG police academy. The murder of my brother in 1996 showed me what the system is like for victims and I am a walking example of the restorative justice model. I have personally experienced the system from every angle.
Having experienced the plea-bargaining system from the perspective of both a defense attorney and a prosecutor I can tell you that the system is functioning, but needs improvement. We have taken some positive steps, but there are limitations to how far we can go. In many cases we have to deal with witnesses who refuse to cooperate (this is particularly common in domestic violence cases) and a plea bargain is the only tool we have left to try and extract some justice for the victim and hol the person accused responsible. As DA I also have an obligation to be responsible with taxpayer dollars. Based on witness statements, evidence, and the charges submitted to our office we have to determine if it makes sense to take a case all the way through a jury trial where the outcome is uncertain. Not everyone who makes a poor choice needs to be locked up, so we are using restorative courts which requires a plea bargain. We are doing a better job of determining who needs help and who is a threat.
We have made great strides in improving transparency over the past 3+ years. There are limits to what we can release and when we can release it, and there are times when we need to withhold certain pieces of information in order to protect an ongoing investigation. We follow the law strictly and adhere to the provisions of the Texas Open Records Act. Unfortunately, we took over an office that was way behind in terms of technology and we are still working to get caught up with the technology we need to make more information available online in real time. I have made efforts to take the DA’s office outside of courthouse and into our community. This administration has created a level of accessibility that was not present before. This can be seen in the numerous community initiatives and programs we have initiated like our Public Safety Townhalls. Transparency is a top issue for our office and we will continue to make improvements over the next term.