Waco, TexasKWTX)- Josh Tetens threw Tom Sawyer’s party before taking over as the new McLennan County District Attorney, along with his wife, three children, mother, mother-in-law and son-in-law, to apply a fresh coat of white paint called “blank canvas” to his office. “.
But after the paint had dried, Tetens had a hectic first week in the office, meeting with his office’s staff of about 60, studying a growing caseload, and meeting with law enforcement officials from various agencies in an attempt to mend relationships that had been strained. because of four. -year in office of his predecessor, Barry Johnson.
“It was exciting, sometimes a little overwhelming, but I also think it was very productive,” Tetens said of his first week in the office. “We have already begun triaging various cases and this has ranged from violent crimes to people who have been in prison for a long time to even a few mental health cases that needed attention. I also had the opportunity to meet with law enforcement several times, so we are already trying to improve our relationship.”
In addition to the pending 3,700 felony cases, including about 60 death row defendants or murder defendants languishing in prison, Tetens also inherited an office staff of about 60 positions, including 10 attorney vacancies and three staff vacancies. He filled four of those attorney positions, including bringing in his former legal partner Michel Symer as his executive first assistant and veteran prosecutor and Baylor University law adjunct professor Ryan Calvert as his first assistant.
The 43-year-old Tetens confidently defeated incumbent President Johnson in the March Republican primary and easily edged out Democrat Aubrey Robertson in the November general election. The former defense attorney who became the 53rd chief prosecutor in McLennan County history knows the responsibilities of a position once held by Pat Neff, former governor of Texas and former president of Baylor University.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “In this position, you have a great responsibility. But what I think is impressive is how many people you have to help you and how many people have reached out and said, “What can we do better?” and “What can we do to make this transition successful?” All in the courthouse and the defense bar. We are all trying to build this team again and improve those relationships. It’s great to see that it can be done and it’s happening faster than I thought.”
Tetens said he was encouraged by the high morale he sees among the staff, adding that he thought they were “100 percent ready” for the change in administration.
“They were all very welcoming,” Tetens said. “The change was necessary and I think they are very happy about it.”
Several attorneys left on their own or retired before Tetens took office, and Tetens did not leave a single attorney on Johnson’s staff. Otherwise, at least for now, Tetens left the old staff intact.
“I told everyone that the most important thing is to work together as a team,” Tetens said. “We’re not going to make changes just for the sake of making changes. We meet with different groups of people in the office – victim coordinators, investigators, petty prosecutors, people involved in criminal cases.
“We are trying to get their opinion. What worked? We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. And as Ryan, (Calvert) I think put it very well, what’s that pebble in your shoe? What drives you crazy? What do we need to shake out? Ryan said at our first meeting, “I don’t want a bunch of complaints without solutions.” So, if there is a pebble, if you really have a problem, what are your ideas on how to fix it,” Tetens said.
Tetens said improving communication between employees, as well as between his office and law enforcement, could go a long way in resolving the backlog of cases that have been exacerbated by pandemic-related court closures.
“We have already been able, literally in the last few days, to solve the backlog problem,” Tetens said. “There have been instances where offers (plea bargains) have never been made in cases that were in the January trial record. We came on the first day and said “This is really a trial, they want a better offer, do we have any problems with detection?” We went down one by one, case by case.
“There were some that we pulled files on and no offer was ever made. Of course, that was because it’s probably touched the hands of half a dozen different prosecutors over the years, but we were able to let each other know at the office, and we got in touch with the defense attorney and said, “Hey, I see.” It’s on the court record in a couple of weeks. I see that there was no offer. Do you want one?’ “
Tetens and Calvert ended a tumultuous first week in office by speaking Friday at the Waco-McLennan County Bar Association luncheon.
Calvert is 46 and has been a prosecutor for 21 years. He has worked in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and most recently was an Assistant District Attorney in Brazos County. He has served in approximately 300 jury trials and is well known in the legal community for training lawyers and officers for the Association of Texas District and District Attorneys, the Texas Bar Association, district attorneys’ offices, and police departments throughout the state.
“First of all, my family and I are very excited to be part of this community, and I personally am very excited to be part of this team at the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, especially when working for someone like Josh,” Calvert said. Assistant District Attorney Mark Parker, 62, worked for six district attorneys in his 34 years with the McLennan County District Attorney’s office.
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