DA’s Race: Soane Says Tharp’s Inefficient
New Braunfels resident and Kerr County Senior Assistant Attorney Joe Soane has served as a reserve deputy sheriff in Comal County for 18 years.
He doesn’t like the way two-term incumbent Comal County Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Tharp interacts with law enforcement. Or the way he says she tried to take credit for the “Operation Crystal Lake” drug bust in Canyon Lake last August, which resulted in the arrest of 39 suspected drug dealers and seizure of 11 pounds of methamphetamine.
Now that Soane’s one of three Republican candidates running against Tharp in the March 6 Republican Texas primary, he isn’t mincing words. The veteran prosecuting attorney says he’s conducted literally thousands of jury trials at all levels, while Tharp’s felony trial experience can be tallied on one hand.
“We have a very dangerous and tenuous circumstance where law enforcement officers who have to act in life-or-death situations are not comfortable in asking their attorney for advice.”
Urgent Need to Tackle Inefficiency
He decided to enter the race based on what he perceives as an urgent need for change.
“The office under Tharp is the picture of inefficiency.”
According to his website, an average of 500 misdemeanor and 42 felony cases are dismissed by the current district attorney each year.
“Think about that. Each case has a victim, an officer must take a report and submit evidence, a suspect is booked into the jail, cases are prepared and submitted, a clerk at the DA’s office must prepare a case and so on. If a case is dismissed, all of this money is wasted. In 2013, 25-percent of the misdemeanor cases disposed of by the DA were through dismissals. Aside from financial considerations, the negative human impact this creates is immeasurable.”
And law-enforcement officers complain it takes Tharp’s office too long to decide whether or not to file a case once paperwork is submitted.
“It’s not uncommon for me to receive a message from an officer that he’s received a subpoena for a misdemeanor case that’s five-years-old,” he says.
What’s the Conviction Rate?
Tharp’s boast of a high-conviction rate is misleading, too, he adds.
A hypothetical district attorney who receives 100 cases from law enforcement may decide only to file five of these. If he or she earns convictions on all of these, the district’s office can claim a 100-percent conviction rate while the remaining 95 cases are undisposed, with many accused offenders still sitting in jail.
“If you’re a career prosecutor, these are the things that we watch when we’re talking about case preparation,” Soane says. “We don’t always try cases we know we can win. We fight the battles worth fighting. We deal with victims. They don’t get to choose me. I have to give them my best 100-percent of the time. If you just try the cases that you know you’re going to win, then yes, you’re going to have a 100-percent conviction rate.”
“It’s very easy for one candidate to come in and say the case clearance rate for the Comal County District Attorney’s office is in the 50-percent range, which is quite low even compared to Guadalupe County, which is in the 82-percent range for adults and 115-percent for juveniles,” he says. “They have a larger population, a lower budget and a smaller staff.”
Jury Docket Grows
When he left Comal County District Attorney’s office in 2007 as chief felony prosecutor, Soane says the jury docket ranged from three to five cases long. Now it’s 10 pages or more — “and it’s because of the policies and procedures that are put into place by the incumbent.”
Right now in Comal County, the backload of felony cases awaiting trial exceeds 300. In 2017, the district attorney’s office tried 26 cases.
“If we didn’t file any new cases, if we’re just dealing with a backlog, it would take over 10 years to catch up,” Soane says.
He’s bothered by pre-trial detention that gives no regard to financial impact or “the human element of the deprivation of liberty.”
“As time passes and the bucket gets more and more full, eventually it overflows,” Soane says. “The jail is at over-capacity and we’re having to ship inmates out of the county. Last year, Comal County paid $1.7 million to do that. Money that’s essentially wasted. We don’t get anything for that money.”
The county’s growth doesn’t account for jail overflow either, he says. At least 48-percent of the population increase is people over the age of 65, or juveniles 18 and under, and children ages five and under.
“Just accrediting it to population is disingenuous,” Soane says. “That’s not the issue especially in light of the backlog of cases we have awaiting trial.”
Facts According to Sloane
Under Tharp’s administration, according to his website, joeforcomalda.com:
- DA’s budget increased 81 percent from $1,968,659 in 2010 to $3,565,789 in 2018.
- The number of felony trial prosecutors has increased from two, when Soane worked for Comal County DA, to seven.
- Despite spending huge sums of money, felony case dispositions have remained static or even dropped.
- While peace-officer jobs increase and the budget “skyrockets,” the work generated by the office decreases or remains the same.
- Misdemeanor case dispositions minus dismissals trend downward as the budget increases $1,597,130.
- The number of juvenile case adjudications has fallen dramatically — does this justify an 81-percent increase in budget?
About Joe Soane
In addition to serving as senior assistant county attorney, Kerr County, Soane worked as first assistant district attorney for the 63rd and 83rd Judicial District, Val Verde County. He also co-founded, and served as legal advisor and drafting attorney for COPsync, Inc., which deeloped revolutionary law-enforcement software.
Soane joined Comal County Criminal District Attorney’s Office in 1999 as misdemeanor prosecutor. He’s a graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law.
He is endorsed by Comal County Deputy Sheriffs Association.