Travis County D.A. Kicks Off Reelection Bid

Margaret Moore says Travis County can be both "safe and progressive"

Margaret Moore
Margaret Moore (Photo by John Anderson)

District Attorney Margaret Moore kicked off her 2020 reelection campaign May 23 at Speakeasy, telling an enthusiastic crowd thick with courthouse regulars that Travis County can be both "safe and progressive," and that can best be done by "working together." Moore cited her creation of a Family Vio­lence Unit as addressing a major issue in local criminal justice and also pointed to progress in addressing sexual assault, saying her office has taken important steps toward "national standards" of enforcement, by establishing an Adult Sexual Assault Unit. "We have tried more cases, mostly violent cases," she said. "And yet we are sending fewer people to the penitentiary. So we can be progressive, crack down on the violence, and handle other cases differently."

Moore repeatedly emphasized "collaboration and partnership" among local offices and officials as central to her reforms of the D.A.'s Office and the criminal justice system – with both the city of Austin and the county's other municipalities. "We are working together in a way that I have not experienced in all the years I have been serving this county and this state in various capacities," said Moore, who has also served as county attorney and as a county commissioner.

Moore also cited major progress on reducing incarceration for small-scale drug possession cases (less than a gram), moving almost all such cases out of state jail felony courts. "We're not done," she continued. "You're going to see more progress as we address these cases as a public health issue, not a public safety issue." She attributed this success to a "broad partnership" with law enforcement – "not by telling people what to do, but by asking them to work with us."

Although she touched on her work on sexual assault, Moore did not address the strong criticism her office has received over its handling of local cases – a story that gained national attention on May 23 in a New York Times story (based on reporting by the Chronicle's Sarah Marloff) headlined, "These Rape Victims Had to Sue to Get the Police to Investigate." Moore is one of several defendants in that federal class action lawsuit by local rape survivors; when asked about the criticisms, Moore said she couldn't respond in detail because of the pending lawsuit, but that she objects to some of the "sensationalist" aspects of the reporting.

Also, on Friday, Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks issued a statement critical of Moore's handling of the case of former firefighter James Baker, who pleaded guilty in October of "invasive visual recording" of a female colleague, Kelly Gall. Under a plea bargain, Baker was allowed to resign, but received no jail time; the statement condemns Moore's treatment of Gall and the D.A.'s failure to take the case to trial, and continues (in part): "The AFA is sure that D.A. Moore is fine in other areas of her job, but her record on sexual assault cases is abysmal and does not comport with the values of Travis County. This is an important item of public concern and must become a major topic of discussion during D.A. Moore's reelection campaign." Moore responded that her decision "was both fair and in the interest of justice," noting that Baker had to surrender his firefighting license permanently.

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