Q. Why are you running for district attorney?
A. I’ve served as district attorney in Williamson County for the last 10 years. During that time, even though we’ve doubled our population, we have maintained one of the lowest crime rates of any county in Texas. And what I hear from people who move here, send their children to school, work and play here is that they appreciate having a safe community, and I want to continue to work to maintain one of the safest communities in this state.
Q. What qualifies you for this position?
A. The district attorney, people need to understand, has the serious job of only prosecuting our most serious felony crimes: murder, sexual assault, robbery, arson. And so the person who has the leadership in an office for crimes that serious has to have a background in the prosecution of felony cases. I have over 20 years of experience prosecuting cases, both personally and supervising an office.
Contrast that with my opponent who has never tried a single felony case in her entire career, not one. She has never prosecuted a murder, rape, robbery. That is an enormous gap in experience.
In addition, I think that the leader of an office has to have done something to excel in criminal law. I have earned board certification in two areas, in criminal law and appellate law.
Q. What are some of the issues facing Williamson County right now that you see that a district attorney can address?
A. Dealing with the growth of this county and making sure that we don’t lose control of the criminal justice system is probably the most important thing that a district attorney can focus on. People can’t go to school, work, play if they don’t feel safe. You see communities begin to unravel when they don’t feel safe. And so what I want to focus on is maintaining the lowest crime rate of any county of our size in Texas by having smart but tough prosecution that holds people accountable.
Q. Is that a continuation of what you’ve been doing, or is there anything new you’d like to explore?
A. The one area where we need to develop a more collaborative approach is the area of domestic violence. The Legislature over the last 5–10 years has changed the laws so that quite a few domestic violence cases that used to be misdemeanors are now felonies. If you are a repeat offender, if you choke your victim, then those cases are now felonies where they used to be misdemeanors.
We’ve had some startling deaths in domestic violence cases over the last few years that we need to make sure don’t ever happen again.
Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for killing his wife, a crime which DNA evidence eventually indicated he did not commit. He was released in 2011.
Q. You’ve received some criticism and notoriety for, especially, the Michael Morton case. How has that case shaped you as a prosecutor and district attorney?
A. Any time a prosecutor as an elected district attorney is called upon to deal with complex cases, you’re going to learn a lot of things. These cases have shown me that it is extraordinarily important to keep an open mind and to make sure that we’re providing the best possible criminal justice experience that we can at all different stages. ...
We have forensic testing available and do it before trial now. We have an open file policy that shares all of our information with the criminal defense attorney. We have board certified lawyers who do an extraordinarily good job of trying these cases.
Q. Is there anything you would have done differently, given the chance on that case, as far as the involvement you did have?
A. The issue that the public doesn’t get a lot of detail about involves the question of when you do DNA testing for someone that’s still in prison. And what really hasn’t been reported is that we did DNA testing of a bed sheet and of some hair that was in the hand of the victim. The results of both of those tests seemed to confirm Michael Morton’s guilt.
The other item that we had to give information to the judge so that he could decide whether or not to order testing involved the bandana. That bandana had two significant problems that we informed the judge about. One is that it was not properly collected by police. ...
The second problem that it had was that they brought it back to the crime scene and we were concerned about whether it had been contaminated with material that was at the crime scene. We informed Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield of all of those issues and, at our recommendation, he denied the request for DNA testing. On appeal, an appellate court ordered us to do the testing, which we did. ...
We made the best decision that we could with the information that we had, but I certainly regret that we were not quicker in conducting the DNA testing, and I have learned that important lesson, to look beyond, sometimes, the facts, and to push for even greater justice.
I have publicly apologized to Michael Morton about that.
Q. Why should people vote for you?
A. Williamson County is a conservative county when it comes to law enforcement. They want their neighborhoods, their schools, their businesses and their families protected by consistent, conservative law enforcement. I’ve done that for 10 years effectively, resulting in the lowest crime rate of any county of our size in Texas, even though we’ve doubled our population.
John Bradley has been the Williamson County district attorney since December 2001 when he was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. He moved to the county in 1989 as a prosecutor from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. He lives in Georgetown and has three children.
Jana Duty has been the Williamson County attorney since being elected in 2004 and has lived in the county since 1998. Duty lives in Round Rock and has three children. Duty declined an in-person interview. All questions were answered by email.
Q. Why are you running for district attorney?
A. To bring honesty and integrity back to the DA’s office. John Bradley represents all that is wrong with our system. Instead of seeking justice, he fought against DNA testing for a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for over two decades for murder. The whole time, the real killer remained on the loose. Worse still, he reduced or dismissed 36 percent of his felony cases to misdemeanors and passed them off to my office. These are not the actions of a tough prosecutor, but instead are the actions of a self-serving politician, and that’s why I am running for district attorney.
Q. What makes you qualified for this position?
A. Over the last decade, the population of our county has almost doubled in size, and yet we have maintained the lowest crime rate of any county of our size in the state. I handle 85 percent of all the criminal cases that come through the justice system, so I’d like to think I had something to do with that.
But rather than toot my own horn further, I give credit to our law enforcement officers who do the heavy lifting out on the streets to keep us safe. I’m the near unanimous choice of our front line law enforcement community. If incumbents are doing their job right, they should easily get all the law enforcement endorsements. I think it speaks volumes that John Bradley has managed only one endorsement while I have the support of C.L.E.A.T., Williamson County Sheriff’s Association, the Cedar Park Police Association, the Austin Police Association, the Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association, The Texas State Fraternal Order of Police and former District Attorneys Ed Walsh and Grant Jones.
Q. What do you view as the role of the WilCo DA?
A. To seek the truth and see that justice is done. This is the job of every DA, and I believe the people of Williamson County deserve a DA who understands this.
Q. What do you see as the most important issues in Williamson County coming into the primaries and how would you, as district attorney, address them?
A. Without question, the most important issue is the fact that John Bradley dismisses or reduces 36 percent of his felony cases recommended to him by law enforcement from felonies down to misdemeanors. That’s double the statewide average and unacceptable to me. The reality is that I prosecute adult felonies every day, but in Williamson County we call them adult misdemeanors because John Bradley passes them off to my office, instead choosing to only prosecute the slam-dunk cases. So when a person commits sexual assault of an adult or assault family violence, in other Texas counties, they are prosecuted as adult felonies. In Williamson County, John Bradley doesn’t believe these are felony offenses, so he reduces them to misdemeanors, and I prosecute them. Victims of crime deserve better.
Duty was reprimanded by the State Bar of Texas, which said she “committed professional misconduct” for releasing confidential information from a Commissioners Court executive session. She also filed a lawsuit to remove County Judge Dan Gattis from office, a suit which was dismissed.
Q. You’ve often spoken out about trying to stop or change the “good old boy politics” you’ve said run Williamson County. Do you think you’ve accomplished your goals in that area? How so? Is there anything more you wish you could have done?
A. I’ll never accomplish my goal fully until the last of the good old boys is put out to pasture, but they don’t go down without a fight. I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made in working closely with the Purchasing Department and the Auditor’s Office to implement several checks and balances to ensure that all county business is conducted in the open and in a fair and equitable manner. I’m also proud of the fact that I’ve been able to bring to the public’s attention a lot of the abuse of power that occurs at the courthouse, such as repeated violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and unauthorized expenditures of tax dollars.
Q. You and the Commissioners Court clashed publicly over a number of issues. How has that experience shaped you as a candidate and attorney?
A. It’s toughened me up, that’s for sure. But I would never go back and change the things I’ve done, because I can look myself in the mirror at night with a clean conscience knowing that I followed the rule of law and did what was right by my boss—the taxpayers of this county. This goes back to the idea of seeking justice. No one is above the law. As a law enforcement official, I was morally and legally obligated to take action. These issues, and the personal and political fallout they have caused, is just an example of the price those of us pay who are committed to putting the public interest above their own and taking on the “good old boy” system. I make no apologies for being an advocate for the people of this county.
Q. Why should people vote for you?
A. Because of my record in office. You can predict the future based on the past. I was elected county attorney in 2004 on a platform of being tough on crime, reforming an office that was plagued by corruption, improving efficiency and saving tax dollars. I’ve gone to work every day for the last seven and a half years committed to making good on those promises. I’m proud of my record and the staff that I’ve put together to serve this community.
I have more than doubled the amount of protective orders for victims of family violence, saved taxpayers over a million dollars by handling civil litigation and county contracts in-house, implemented a new Direct File System that has saved taxpayers well over a million dollars in less than a year since it’s been implemented and collected over $7.5 million in hot checks and fees for area merchants.