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LEGISLATIVE WRAP..UP Prosecutors Get Pounded The district attorneys meet their own personal Alamo in the 79th Legislature BY JONATHAN YORK For more than 30 years, district attorneys have held sway on criminal justice issues at the Texas Capitol. Rob Kepple, the executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys back to 1971 and an aborted attempt by leg islators to rewrite the penal code. The move inspired the district attorneys to get involved and offer their expertise. Over the years, prosecutors entrenched themselves to the point where they became the final word on law and order for legislators. Most of Texas’ district attorneys are elected, and legislators see them as significant players in district-level politics. Many, like John Bradley of Williamson County, have worked with legislators over the years and established deep relationships. \(Bradley once was employed by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and supervised now-Rep. Dan Gattis \(RFinally, the prosecutors, with their “lock-’em-up” mentality, offered lawmakers a surefire way to appear tough on crimetantamount to legislative catnip for politicians. In the 79th Legislature, that pattern changed. For the first time in recent memory, the prosecutors received a series of Photo by Jana Birchum stinging setbacks on major legislation they opposed. In the past, when prosecutors testified in committee, it was often the final word. This session, they were just as likely to find themselves under cross-examination by hostile legislators. Some of the prosecutors’ trouble was self-inflicted, but much of it was the result of changes that go beyond even the power of district attorneys to control and involve how state leaders look at criminal justice. According to a slide show presented to its members prior to the session in December, the TDCAs main priorities at the legislature were to keep prosecutors’ budgets intact and obtain higher pay. The association relegated criminal justice issues to a second tier. Normally association staff only testify on bills as neutral witnesses. They leave it to individual prosecutors to lead on specific issues. Historically, the district attorneys’ lobbying power comes in proportion to the size of their offices. have an assistant district attorney in Austin full-time during the session. Because they represent elected officials, these attorneys do not have to register as lobbyists. Perhaps the most high-profile loss experienced by the 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 24, 2005