Hindered by top prosecutors who say they won’t prosecute certain crimes, Texas Republicans are sidelining what they call “illegal” district attorneys.
Two North Texas Republicans have filed bills that would allow Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue district attorneys who refuse to prosecute certain crimes. The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, will also create the possibility for the removal of top prosecutors.
While the bills do not name Dallas County District Attorney John Crusoe, the legislation is intended to enforce the demands of Democratic district attorneys like him.
Crezuo, who declined to comment, said he would not prosecute those who have abortions, parents who care for their transgender children, or people who have small amounts of marijuana on their first arrest.
Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, coined the term “fraudulent” district attorneys early in the legislative session last week, and was supported by other GOP lawmakers.
“It’s time to rein them in,” Phelan said, listing his priorities in the legislative session.
Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, who authored the bill filed in the Senate last week, said he’s received positive feedback from district attorneys across the state who are “doing their job.”
“That’s because they understand that there are people in the profession in Texas and across the country who are more focused on political posturing or advancing a political agenda than on enforcing the law,” Parker said.
Rep. David Cook, R-Mansfield State, filed a companion bill in the House of Representatives this week.
“The carte blanche of public statements by district attorneys that the laws we have on the books will be ignored makes the Legislative Assembly’s power to determine what is and isn’t a crime moot,” Cook said. “I intend to rein in renegade district attorneys and enforce the rule of law in Texas.”
If the bills become law, the Attorney General can file a petition against the District Attorney. The district attorney will face a jury trial and be removed from office if found guilty under the new law. The Attorney General may file suit in Travis County or the county where the district attorney was elected.
Cook served on the House Committee on Criminal Justice Reform with Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who said his top priority is to hold district attorneys who “poke their noses into the legislature” to account.
During a committee hearing in October, they expressed displeasure at five Texas metropolitan district attorneys who, in a joint statement with prosecutors across the country, pledged not to prosecute people who “seek, perform, or support abortion” after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned Federal right to abortion.
Creso was among the elected Texas prosecutors who signed the pledge. José Garza of Travis County, Joe Gonzalez of Bexar County, Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County, and Brian Middleton of Fort Bend County were the other Texans who signed the application.
In subsequent statements, Creso said that his office would act on its own discretion on a case-by-case basis.
Garza and Gonzalez also declined to comment. Middleton and Gonzalez did not respond to a request for an interview.
The same five prosecutors announced last year that they would not prosecute families whose children receive gender-affirming care after Paxton released a legal opinion saying certain types of medical care for trans youth are a form of child abuse, and Gov. Greg Abbott ordered government agencies to take action. open investigations into child abuse in response to reports of children undergoing gender confirmation procedures.
“When you have prosecutors – a few, just a handful – who seem to be diligently telling the public that we don’t agree with the Legislature on this policy and therefore we are not going to enforce these laws, prosecute all this class of offenses, which is very problematic for me and should be of concern,” Leach said at the hearing.
The committee also discussed Creuzot’s policy of prosecuting people for first-time minor possession of marijuana and petty theft of essentials such as baby food. These two policies were the hallmarks of his first term. Cresot abandoned his thievery policy after being re-elected in November.
Middleton testified during the hearing and said district attorneys are making statements to get their stance on issues to voters.
“My goal would be to ban statements like this…there should be some sort of punishment for it,” Cooke, a Mansfield Republican, replied.
Leach said such policies and statements offered “complete immunity” to criminals. But Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, has argued that Creso’s policy does not amount to universal immunity because it targets “specific scenarios of facts.”
The legislators acknowledged that prosecutors have been quietly using their legal discretion for years to decide how to handle cases. In their opinion, the prosecutor’s discretion should be protected.
“What is the use of announcing this to the public?” Lich asked.
Pamela Metzger, a law professor and the SMU Center for Criminal Justice Reform who testified, suggested that the public might prefer to know where their elected leaders stand. The announcements create opportunities for dialogue and reform, she said. Metzger studied Creesot’s marijuana policy and its impact in minimizing arrests and prosecutions on racial grounds.
District attorneys must be transparent about their priorities, and voters must elect leaders based on that information, said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that released a nationwide statement from abortion prosecutors last year.
According to Krinsky, prosecutors must balance their limited time and resources and often use discretion to focus more on violent crime. She noted that some states still have laws that criminalize interracial marriages and operate on religious days.
“It’s absurd to suggest that every law on the books is worth allocating resources to prosecute it,” Krinsky said. “And indeed, if that were the case, we would have to exponentially increase the resources of law enforcement and prosecutors just by acting around, enforcing and prosecuting every law. Not only would this be a ridiculous use of limited resources, but it doesn’t make us any safer.”
The Association of Texas County and District Attorneys, a non-profit organization for prosecutors, said the Texas bills are “essentially a simplified version of the Sanctuary Cities Bill” of 2017. This law provides for criminal penalties for senior law enforcement officials and a path to the removal of elected or appointed officials who obstruct the enforcement of immigration laws.
“It is possible that one or more of these bills could be placed on the Governor’s list of ‘urgent matters’ in the coming weeks. Such an appointment frees the legislature to vote on these bills as soon as possible (instead of the normal 60-day delay required by the state constitution),” the organization wrote on its website.
So-called progressive prosecutors have upset Republican lawmakers across the country.
New York Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis sponsored a bill in June called the Prosecutors Prosecute Act that would require local prosecutors to report crimes they declined to prosecute. But support for the bill fell short because lawmakers said the federal legislation infringes on the rights of local law enforcement.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis fired Tampa Bay’s chief prosecutor, Democrat Andrew Warren, over his pledge not to prosecute abortion cases, which Creso also signed. Warren has also spoken out against the prosecution of transgender people in health care cases and has introduced a policy against prosecution for certain petty crimes.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach Democrat Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. He is entitled to a civil trial, which has been adjourned indefinitely. Among the reasons the House of Representatives has said Krasner should be removed from office is his decision not to prosecute certain petty crimes, including drug and prostitution cases.