Bill of the Week: Republicans Tell D.A.s to Bang Cymbals Together Like Animatronic Monkeys

New bill throws prosecutorial discretion out the window

Bill of the Week: Republicans Tell D.A.s to Bang Cymbals Together Like Animatronic Monkeys

Prosecutors won't take on every case that crosses their desk. That discretion is critical to district attorneys for both practicality and morality – so they can effectively allocate their resources and avoid putting innocent people on trial when evidence just doesn't stand up.

But Texas' big-city Democratic D.A.s, including Travis County's José Garza, have drawn the ire of Republicans for announcing they will refuse to prosecute doctors who provide abortions, parents who get transgender care for their kids, and people with small amounts of cannabis. In response, Texas Republicans have filed companion House and Senate bills that would severely limit discretion not only in those cases but across the board.

The bills don't name the D.A.s that Texas Republicans have dubbed "rogue prosecutors," but it's clearly targeted at Garza, Dallas County D.A. John Creuzot, and the three other urban D.A.s who pledged in a joint statement not to prosecute people who seek or provide abortions. (During an October hearing of the House Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, Republicans expressed frustration with these five.)

A Travis County D.A. spokesperson said, "Regardless of which debates our legislature takes up, the Travis County District Attorney's Office will remain focused on prosecuting violent crimes." Garza declined to comment on the new bills, but he's explained the importance of prosecutorial discretion in the past. At a press conference in June after announcing that he wouldn't go after abortion providers, Garza said, "A prosecutor's job is to protect public safety. To enforce this [abortion ban] will not only fail to promote or protect public safety, but will also lead to more harm."

House Bill 1350 and Senate Bill 378 (from Rep. David Cook, R-Mansfield, and Sen. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound) would bar prosecuting attorneys from limiting the enforcement of any criminal offense – by "policy ... pattern or practice." It would allow Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue D.A.s who do avoid certain cases. Then, if the A.G. wins in court, the D.A. will have to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 for the first violation and about $25,000 for each subsequent violation, with each day of a continuing violation constituting a separate violation and fine, which could mount to astronomical levels after a few days.

Cook told The Dallas Morning News that he filed the House bill because "carte blanche public pronouncements by district attorneys, that laws we have on the books will be ignored, renders the authority of the Legislature to determine what is and isn't a crime moot." Meanwhile, Parker unironically said some prosecutors are "more focused on political posturing or driving a political agenda than they are on enforcing the law," though choosing to avoid low-impact crimes can increase the offices' chance of success in more pressing cases.

If D.A.s are required to put all of their resources into prosecuting all crimes on the books, they're gonna need "exponentially" more money and people to get it done, said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of nonprofit Fair and Just Prosecution. "Not only would that be a ridiculous use of limited resources, but it doesn't make us safer."

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