Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's Official: Terri Moore Joins Dallas DA Office

Dallas: Former Tarrant prosecutor known for courtroom tenacity

09:56 AM CST on Wednesday, December 20, 2006
By ROBERT THARP / The Dallas Morning News

In his search to fill the No. 2 position in his new administration, Craig Watkins went outside the district attorney's office, outside the circle of Dallas County courthouse regulars and even outside the Dallas County legal bar.

Mr. Watkins announced Tuesday that Fort Worth attorney Terri Moore would be his first assistant when he is sworn in as Dallas County district attorney Jan. 1.

Courthouse observers speak highly of Ms. Moore, who twice ran unsuccessfully to become district attorney in Tarrant County. She has worked as a defense attorney in private practice since 2001 and was a Tarrant County prosecutor and federal prosecutor before that.

Mr. Watkins named Dallas attorney Kevin Brooks to replace Toby Shook as lead felony prosecutor, called the trial bureau chief. Mr. Shook, a 23-year veteran prosecutor, confirmed that he will be leaving the DA's office.

Mr. Watkins could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a prepared statement, he spoke highly of Ms. Moore and Mr. Brooks.

"Their combined record of accomplishment in the courtroom will no doubt restore integrity to the DA's office and provide a safer Dallas County," he said.

Ms. Moore said she began talking with Mr. Watkins about the job shortly after the Nov. 7 election in which she lost for a second time to incumbent Tim Curry and Mr. Watkins edged out Mr. Shook, the Republican favorite.

"He told me what he was all about, and the things he wants to accomplish are real positive," she said. "I think his philosophy sounds compatible with my own."

Mr. Watkins was praised for his selection of Ms. Moore, who is noted for the range and depth of her résumé. She has extensive experience as a defense attorney and prosecutor.

"I think she'll bring a good balance for the office," said Dallas attorney Bill Cox. He described Mr. Brooks as a thorough and conscientious attorney.

Many within the district attorney's office agreed. As a Tarrant County prosecutor, Ms. Moore created the office's gang unit, and she was involved in one of the biggest child pornography cases in the country as a federal prosecutor.

"Most everyone I've talked to is excited about her experience," said one chief prosecutor who asked that his name not be used.

Ms. Moore said she anticipates implementing a broader open-file policy similar to one already in place in Tarrant County that allows defense attorneys to view the contents of case files.

"It helps prevent convicting innocent people when you say, 'Here's my file. You're welcome to everything in it. I'll convict you based on the truth,' " she said.

Under the existing open-file policy in Dallas County, defense attorneys may view a case file in the presence of a prosecutor and take notes, but they are not allowed to make copies. In Tarrant County, all files are available online.

While touting progressive programs similar to those proposed by Mr. Watkins, Ms. Moore is known as a tough courtroom adversary. She is the first female prosecutor to hold the No. 2 spot in the Dallas County district attorney's office.

"She's tenacious, personable and approachable," said Dallas attorney David Finn, who worked with Ms. Moore as a state and federal prosecutor in Tarrant County. "In the courtroom, she's a pure predator, and I mean that as a compliment."

Ms. Moore agreed that she has a strong reputation.

"I do not have a history of being a light touch," she said. "You know which cases need to be tried and which cases need to be plea bargained."

Mr. Brooks, a former prosecutor and Marine captain, has been involved in several high-profile trials in Dallas County, including the still-pending death penalty retrial of Thomas Miller-el. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Mr. Miller-el receive a new trial after ruling that prosecutors unfairly excluded minority jurors from his 1986 trial.

Mr. Brooks' appointment could further complicate the Miller-el trial schedule, which has been postponed and is now set to begin the long jury-selection process in February. With Mr. Brooks as the office's trial bureau chief, there could be a question over whether the district attorney's office could prosecute the case in-house.

Mr. Brooks declined to comment about the Miller-el case Tuesday.

Judge David Finn

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Hires: Dallas Morning News

Watkins picks two assistants
Reporter Robert Tharp has info on Watkins appointments.

File this one under Worst Kept Secrets in the Courthouse: District Attorney-elect Craig Watkins officially named Fort Worth attorney Terri Moore as his first assistant. Moore, who twice ran unsuccessfully for d.a. in Tarrant County(most recently last November), has been the odds-on bet for the job since her name began circulating three or four weeks ago.

A quote attributed to Moore in a Watkins press release this morning has her pledging to make ``the necessary improvements to the District Attorney’s Office to restore safety and justice to Dallas County.’’ She is highly regarded in Tarrant County where she worked as a defense attorney and earlier as a deputy chief prosecutor for District Attorney Tim Curry and as a U.S. Attorney where she prosecuted the largest internet pornography case in U.S. history, among other things.

Watkins also named Dallas attorney Kevin Brooks to replace Toby Shook, who is going into private practice with Dan Hagood at Fitzpatrick, Hagood, Smith & Uhl. Brooks has been involved in plenty of high-profile trials in Dallas County, including the still-pending death penalty retrial of Thomas Miller-el, which was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court out of concern that prosecutors unfairly excluded minority jurors from his 1986 trial. Brooks’ appointment further complicates the Miller-el trial schedule, which is set to begin the long jury-selection process in February, and raises questions of whether the district attorney’s office can prosecute it in-house.

The Watkins team has less than two holiday-laden weeks to get ready to take the reins January 1.

Note: I've known Ms. Moore and Mr. Brooks for years. In my opinion they will both do an excellent job. This is very positive news.

David Finn

Judge David Finn

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Another DMN Editorial on the Jail

The Dallas Morning News Editorial

Something to Talk About

10:35 AM CST on Sunday, December 17, 2006

Two questions about the Dallas County jails, but only one clear answer.

Where was Sheriff Lupe Valdez when a radioactive U.S. Department of Justice report hit the streets? (Turkey, as it turns out.)

And what's she doing about the seemingly intractable problems in the nation's seventh-largest jail system? (This is less clear.)

The 47-page DOJ report says her jails are so dangerously mismanaged that they "contributed to preventable deaths, hospitalizations and unnecessary harm" and violated inmates' constitutional rights to care and safe conditions.

In a bad-news daily double, we learned the same day that jailer overtime for the last fiscal year shot up to an astounding $9.4 million, compared to $5.8 million the previous fiscal year and $1.8 million the one before that.

This didn't strike us as the progress we hoped to see in June, when we noted that while we supported her 2004 election bid, we had become impatient with the lack of results.

One suggestion was to quit hiding behind "unavailable for comment" when bad news broke. It was unlucky to be so far away on a planned trip when the DOJ report was leaked; we can accept that the time difference and communication hang-ups complicated a response. Yet she should have read the full report before we found her Thursday.

A more important suggestion was to craft and implement a comprehensive plan to reform the troubled jail system. Proactive, not reactive.

Lean on experts at Parkland hospital, which had taken over jail health care, a key improvement. Make a more cogent case to county commissioners why she needs even more personnel (i.e., funding) to fix the many problems identified by state and now federal inspectors.

"The answer is we are doing that," she said. "We have that plan. Should I have put that out and given it to you? Yes.

"It hasn't been 100 percent improvement. It's more like 400 percent improvement."

We hope she's right, but each new report reminds us that evidence is in short supply.

Suggestions will soon take a back seat to harder deadlines. The DOJ reserves the right to sue the county if its concerns aren't met in 49 days. The next state jail inspection – three failures and counting – should happen around the time the feds' window closes.

And voters, of course, will get their say in 2008.

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