Newly elected criminal justice officials in Dallas, most of them longtime defense attorneys, promise far-reaching reforms in the name of fairness, rehabilitation, and tackling one of the nation’s worst crime rates, reports the Dallas Morning News. They talk about toughening up on repeat offenders, violent criminals and probation violators, while helping low-level lawbreakers turn their lives around. One of their first tasks will be to calm fears that their experience has made them soft on crime and overly skeptical of law enforcement.
Craig Watkins, the county’s first black district attorney, has one of the biggest challenges, given the prominence of his position and some strident language that once appeared on his law firm’s Web site, which has been taken down. He vowed to defend clients “by any means necessary” and added: “I enjoy manipulating the Government; most times the cases they bring against my clients are weak and unsubstantiated.” After the election, Watkins said: “I can’t tell you how much change we’re going to do. The sky is not going to fall.” Watkins will lead an office that frequently has come under fire for its handling of criminal cases with minority defendants. Investigations by the Morning News in 2005 and in 1986 found that blacks disproportionately were excluded from juries. Several Watkins allies won criminal judgeships last week. The judges-to-be are talking more freely and said their rise to power would level the playing field for defendants, ending an era in which many judges were elected after careers as prosecutors.