County to ask Legislature to form Criminal District Attorney’s office

The Medina County Commissioners Court voted unanimously in a meeting held Nov. 21 to petition the State Legislature to create a Criminal District Attorney’s office to serve Medina County.
If approved, the move will eliminate the County Attorney’s office, as per state law, and consolidate felony, misdemeanor, civil, and juvenile cases in the Criminal District Attorney’s office.
“I think the county will have greatly improved efficiencies by having all prosecutory duties under one roof,” County Judge Chris Schuchart said.
Medina County is currently part of the 38th Judicial District along with Uvalde and Real Counties, which is served by District Judge Camille DuBose and District Attorney Daniel Kindred. Medina County recently became eligible to form its own Judicial District after passing the 50,000 population mark.
Should the Legislature approve the county’s request, a Criminal District Attorney and a District Judge will be appointed by Governor Greg Abbott. Both positions would then be up for election during the next election.
The County Attorney’s office would be eliminated on October 1, 2019, at the start of the county’s next fiscal year.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Beck made the motion to petition the Legislature.
“I think it’s going to be a good move for us,” Beck said. “It will take the strain off the court dockets; streamline the process of getting folks out of the jail and through the court system in a timely manner.”
Schuchart emphasized the financial benefit the county stands to realize with the move.
“By consolidating the Criminal District Attorney’s office with the County Attorney and creating a new district court, the county will stand to save somewhere in the neighborhood of about $178,000,” Schuchart said.
Medina County contributes $100,000 per quarter, or 60 percent of the total budget, to cover the expenses of the 38th Judicial District, which handles felony cases.
The County Attorney’s office, an elected position that has been held by Kim Havel since 2009, is responsible for the prosecution of Class A, B, and C misdemeanors, as well as juvenile cases.
Schuchart was critical of what he claimed was a $210,000 decrease in revenue collected in fines and court fees from the four Justice of the Peace courts over the last year, and cited unnamed law enforcement officers from various county agencies whom he said were frustrated with Havel.
“The jail population is still full,” Schuchart said. “We have as many arrests as we’ve ever had. [Law enforcement officers] bring them in, and then the common story is, ‘I file my case with the County Attorney, it gets kicked back,’ for some reason, which they usually don’t agree with. ‘I fixed that reason, I sent it in again.’ It gets kicked back again. One guy told me, ‘I haven’t filed a case in over a year because I just don’t want to [mess] with it.’
“So we have a full set of law enforcement agencies in this county that are extremely frustrated. Their morale is low when it comes to dealing with the County Attorney’s office, and so therefore we are losing money.”
Havel defended her prosecutorial record, pointing out that Class C misdemeanors are dismissed if officers don’t show up to court because there are no written reports as there are for Class A and B misdemeanors. Additionally, Havel said that those with multiple tickets will sometimes have one dismissed in order to take payment on the others, and that she also exercises prosecutorial discretion.
“What that means is that we get to file the cases that we feel like are viable, and we get to dismiss the cases that we feel like are not viable for some reason, or use them as bargaining chips,” Havel said. “So by taking that away, that prosecutorial discretion – and hiring your own prosecutor, basically, because if you’re going to get somebody appointed, I’m sure you’re going to be pushing somebody – you may get more of what you want, and you may have less frustration, but I will tell you I’m nobody’s yes-man. Never have been, never will be. If a bad case hits my desk, it does not get filed.”
Beck’s motion to petition the Legislature received a second from Pct. 2 Commissioner Larry Sittre. Pct. 1 Commissioner Tim Neuman and Pct. 3 Commissioner David Lynch voted in support of the measure, as did Schuchart.
“The bottom line is, it’s going to help out the justice system here in Medina County,” Beck said.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer