De Lemos’ MAP for Justice in DA Race
It’s an easy acronym to remember, and a guide to all of the reasons attorney Attorney Steve de Lemos says he should be voters’ choice for district attorney on the March 6 Republican primary ballot.
He and two others challengers trying to unseat incumbent District Attorney Jennifer Tharp say the status quo in the Comal County justice system is unacceptable.
de Lemos accuses Tharp of using “fear and misperception” to distract voters from this situation, which includes a “dismal” 50.8-percent felony disposition or clearance record, over 1,400 pending and unresolved felony cases, over 3,000 unresolved misdemeanor cases, a juvenile clearance rate of below 50 percent, and a jail system that’s badly overcrowded.
He says Tharp wastes $1.8 million dollars a year housing inmates in out-of-county facilities because the DA’s office can’t manage its caseload or prioritize jail cases.
“There’s a blindness and arrogance to this that is scary,” he says in an interview. “It would be one thing if only one case was out of whack, but this is all across the spectrum. Juvenile’s in the toilet, too.”
“Right now management at the District Attorney’s Office is antagonistic and arrogant to its own attorneys, law enforcement, the elected District Court and County Court at Law judges, the defense attorneys, and probation, and the citizens of this County,” he posted on delemosforcomalda.com. “I will change these poor attitudes and practices swiftly and with an eye to your tax dollar.”
de Lemos suggests the district attorney’s race is the most important one in this election cycle because the district attorney is the most important person in Comal County. He says the district attorney’s fundamental responsibility is helping victims.
If elected, he says he’ll faithfully represent Comal County and its legal interests but will stay out of county business.
“Unless requested and to the extent possible, I will focus on the running of the district attorney’s office and let other elected officials in the county do the same.”
Bringing Back Honor and Justice
The New Braunfels native worked in private practice before joining the Comal County Criminal District Attorney’s office in 1998. He served as assistant criminal district attorney for 15 years, handling everything from Justice of the Peace Class C offenses to serious felony cases.
de Lemos left the county in 2013 to enter private practice but was quickly recruited by Guadalupe County, where he handled serious felony cases, assault family violence and weapon offense prosecution of juveniles.
Now he wants to come back to Comal County and deal with the “small segment” of the prosecution community that wants to win cases at all costs regardless of the real truth. In other words, he’s asking for votes “to clean out our swamp at the DA’s office.”
“I am running to bring back honor, good judgement, tough, fair, ethical and efficient justice to this county,” he says.
“If you were a seasoned prosecutor you would know how to move these cases.”
He has nothing but positive things to say about opponents Joe Soane and Deb Wigington. De Lemos says they each bring their own unique backgrounds to bear on a situation they all want to change.
But he says he brings broad-based judicial experience to the table. He’s tried everything except capital murder cases. He’s served under three different district attorneys.
“I want to bring us back to what we used to be, which is a place where honor, integrity, toughness are in balance so we can focus resources on those folks who are truly bad and evil people,” he says. “You can’t do everything.”
Tharp’s doubled staff size but her office is inefficient he says, especially compared to surrounding counties.
“M” is for Management
Which is why his M.A.P. for the district attorney’s office begins with “M,” for management.
And it’s going to take a lot of that to straighten out the “m” in mess.
“I will manage our caseload from intake through disposition by being an active manager of our felonies, misdemeanors, juvenile cases, Child Protective Services (C.P.S.) cases, etc. I will manage our jail docket by absolutely prioritizing all cases where people are in our county jail and housed out of county.
“If it is a prosecutable case, we will expedite the filing of both the misdemeanor and felony cases, engage in tough, fair and just plea negotiations with defense counsel, and move as many of these cases either through plea agreements both pre-filing and post-filing, or through open pleas and expedited trial settings.
The juvenile system needs much closer supervision, too, he says.
“I will work to create an organizational model that recognizes a continuum of prosecution between the juvenile, adult, and Child Protective Services systems so that we identify, recognize, and treat to the fullest extent possible juveniles and young adults for mental illness, substance abuse, and behavioral issues as early as possible, and to hold people accountable for their actions while at the same time fairly dealing with their respective cases in a manner to ensure that they are stabilized as productive citizens of our County.”
“A is for Action”
Which leads to “A” for action or acting aggressively to get cases filed and disposed of in a reasonable time “because justice delayed is justice denied for everyone.”
de Lemos says the district attorney’s office needs to create relationships of mutual respect and understanding with law enforcement, judges, the county clerk’s office, probation and the defense bar.
“I will act to bring back strong, honorable, ethical, tough and fair leadership by me and by new senior staff to lead the staff and young attorneys to seek justice for all,” he says.
de Lemos suggests the county’s “specialty courts” like the misdemeanor-level Veterans Court could be used to get first-time offenders the help they need for mental health issues or drug-and-alcohol problems.
“As part of our case screening process, we must treat our veterans with dignity and respect and tailor programs to help these honorable men and women who have served get the help that they need if they are charged for a crime in Comal County,” he wrote in a statement on his website. “I intend to expand the current Veteran’s Court program for misdemeanors and to also focus on creating a Veteran’s court for felony cases.”
Not everyone needs to go to prison. Six or seven percent of offenders are violent and need to go straight to prison. “The rest are all within this spectrum where you can possibly give them a chance, and this is one of those.”
On his wish list is a mental health court, which other jurisdictions have.
“We are in desperate need of more advanced mental health approaches in Comal County.”
de Lemos says he has a particular passion for issues surrounding family violence and abuse cases. He would create a family justice unit using existing resources and staffed by dedicated prosecutors.
“The family justice unit will also be primarily responsible for obtaining family violence protective orders to help get court orders to protect applicants from perpetrators of family violence. These cases will be staffed on at least a weekly basis with me to ensure that appropriate serious attention is kept on this problem in our County.”
“P is for Professionalism”
“P” would be the outcome.
Professionalism is needed to reinstill trust and balance to Comal County’s justice system.
“I will be professional with our victims and the public, and I will bring professionalism back with a zeal to ensure justice for all,” de Lemos says.
“C is for Canyon Lake”
For years, county government’s treated outlying areas like Canyon Lake like stepchildren. Since Comal County Sheriff Mark Reynolds was elected in 2016, that’s changed. More resources are being directed to Bulverde, Schertz and Garden Ridge as well.
New Braunfels is no longer the population center of the county.
“If we don’t have a handle on the criminal side then people are not safe in their homes.”