The Austin Chronicle

Workers Defense Project Director Opens District Attorney Campaign

By Michael King, June 5, 2019, 4:50pm, Newsdesk

As expected, José Garza, currently co-executive director of Workers Defense Project, this week formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Travis County District Attorney.

In his announcement, Garza said, “It is time for new leadership to transform the Travis County District Attorney’s office into a fairer, more forward-thinking office focused on rebuilding the public trust and ensuring justice for all.” Garza said he would “restore integrity” to the D.A.’s handling of sexual assaults, work to end cash bail, treat substance abuse as a public health crisis rather than a criminal issue, and defend immigrants' rights.

According to Garza, 70% of current inmates in the Travis County Jail have not been convicted of crimes, instead are unable to afford bail. “We’re not keeping the community safe,” he said, “when we decide who stays in jail solely because of their wealth.” County Public Information Officer Hector Nieto said the 70% figure is misleading – essentially a “daily attendance” or headcount number – because it doesn’t reflect either subsequent program services nor the many inmates who are released on personal bond.

Garza is a Texas native (and nephew of former Austin city manager Jesús Garza), and worked previously as public defender (state and federal) in Del Rio, and served in the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama Administration. He told the Chronicle last week that Travis County should be leading the way on criminal justice reform, but is instead falling behind more progressive efforts by district attorneys in Bexar and Dallas counties.

Incumbent District Attorney Margaret Moore officially opened her reelection campaign May 23, and defended her record in office as leading to fewer incarcerations and more diversions from prosecutions, particularly of minor drug offenders. “We’re not done,” she told supporters. “You’re going to see more progress, as we address these cases as a public health issue, not a public safety issue.”

The county recently released a statistical update citing marked declines in the average daily jail population (9% since 2014), and even greater declines in jail bookings (18%) and case filings (11%) over the same period.

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