AUSTIN (KXAN) — Both candidates in the race for Travis County district attorney are faced with the task of convincing voters that, if elected, the integrity of the office will be restored.
Democratic candidate and front runner in the historically Democrat position, Margaret Moore, told KXAN it is her number one priority. “Clearly, the number one mission for a new district attorney here in Travis County is to restore the public’s confidence in the office,” said Moore.
Moore’s Republican opponent, Maura Phelan, agrees, saying her number one priority is to restructure the District Attorney’s Office.
“I’m disgusted with what’s happened in the DA’s office and it needs to change,” said Phelan. “We’re issued by law to see that justice is done at the DA’s office, and to be justice, there has to be consistency, there has to be transparency, and there has to be accountability. We just haven’t had that, and I intend to establish it.”
Multiple prosecutors in the Travis Co. Sheriff’s Office have been arrested in recent years, including the drunk driving arrest of sitting District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
We asked both candidates what their policies would be, if elected, regarding DWI charges and employees in their office. Both women told KXAN they would implement a zero tolerance policy.
If elected, Moore, said she wants to take a closer look at family violence and low-level drug cases in Travis Co. to be sure the county is approaching and addressing these charges effectively. Moore says she would also establish a civil rights unit to handle cases where police use of force is involved.
“We have begun to envision how we can investigate, and present these cases to special grand juries so that the community begins to see a process that is as unbiased as it can possibly be,” said Moore. “This community has demonstrated to me a huge outpouring of good will for a new administration and a huge desire for us to be successful and it is my goal, and I believe we will achieve, bringing that office to a high level of performance and effectiveness.”
Phelan, the Republican, says if elected, she will establish a sexual assault unit to deal with these cases directly. “We need a sexual assault unit especially with the backlog that we have at the DNA lab,” said Phelan. “We have these victims who are usually victimized by someone they know, someone who lives near them, and so, they’re being re-victimized over and over again while they wait for the years for this to happen.”
Phelan also says she’d also create a 24/7 intake for attorneys to look at the cases when they’re filed. She says she would promote improved relations between community members and police through education programs, starting in middle schools.
Public Integrity Unit
Lehmberg’s arrest led to then-Governor Rick Perry vetoing $4 million the office received in state funding to house the Public Integrity Unit. That veto crippled a unit which once had 35 positions and has been forced to slash down to 10 without the state funding.
The Moore campaign told KXAN News that they plan to discuss the Public Integrity Unit with the state legislature fairly quickly in order to, hopefully return to performing the responsibilities the Travis Co. DA’s Office had before.
“It’s important that we revisit this issue with the legislature because the Travis County District Attorney’s Office offers a very unique ability to prosecute statewide when the state has been defrauded,” said Moore. “We feel that we’re in a good position to go and discuss the situation and bring a new approach, a new set of faces, to handle these cases.”
Phelan said she is not going to seek out more work until the work currently in the county is handled.
“Right now there’s so much for Travis County cases that needs to be taken care of, that I think that needs to be focused on first,” said Phelan. “Whether or not you get the financing for a Public Integrity Unit is something above and beyond.
The Republican candidate continued, “It’s the Travis County District Attorney’s Office first… If that is covered, and if we have people presenting cases, and have cases that need to be pursued, then we would go and ask the legislature for the funding.”