DA Tharp Wins Primary Election
Incumbent Comal County District Attorney Jennifer Tharp beat three attorneys running against her in the March 6 Texas primary, winning a place on the November ballot.
Some 54.15 percent or 9,131 of voters supported her in the race. Deborah Linnartz Wigington earned 17.31 percent or 2,919 votes. Joseph ‘Joe’ Sloane received 22.20 percent of the vote with 3,743 votes cast. Steven de Lemos trailed with 6.34 percent of the votes with 1,069 votes.
22,307 Comal County voters cast ballots in the primary election. There are 95,353 registered voters in the county.
During her campaign, she argued they could criticize the way she runs her office all they want — the safety of Comal County residents come first.
During her two terms in office, she says she’s earned a reputation of being tough on the worst offenders, and is known for maintaining a standard of justice that prioritizes victims and the community.
“Many things are going on in the community with well-connected individuals,” Tharp says. “I would rather be taken out because I stood up to them than have compromised my integrity. It’s all or nothing.”
In particular, some defense attorneys would like to see a DA in office who would make better deals or plead cases below the minimum, she says.
“I, on the other hand, do not wheel and deal but make my plea offers focused on the safety of the victims and this community.”
High Conviction Rates
Tharp says her high conviction rates are a result of her respect for law enforcement and the high standards she sets for the district attorney’s office.
“What is the point of officers risking their lives when arresting dangerous criminals if your DA dismisses or pleas down their cases and puts them right back on the street?” she wrote in an email to MyCanyonLake.com. “My opponents are publicly proposing a much more liberal approach to pleas and dismissals to keep in line with surrounding counties’ clearance rates.”
Tharp points to a favorable chart of felony conviction rates published by New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung on Feb. 11.
From September 2016 to August 2017, Comal County’s felony conviction rate “set a standard for the State of Texas.”
Comal County’s conviction rate was 79 percent, Bexar County’s was 46, Guadalupe County’s rate was 55, Hayes County’s was 48 and statewide, that number was 49. These numbers have been more or less consistent since September 2014.
“One only needs to look at our high conviction rates and low dismissal rates to understand why we are proud of our work,” she says.
But opponents who say these statistics are misleading also claim Tharp’s failure to efficiently manage the way cases are processed has caused huge problems with jail overcrowding. Comal County subsequently spends over $1 million annually to pay for inmate overflow at other facilities.
“Just like the overcrowding is not the officer’s fault for arresting criminals, it is not the prosecution’s fault for holding criminals accountable for their crimes,” she says. “This issue will be resolved once our new jail is constructed. Last year, my office filed 2,900 misdemeanor cases and 1,600 felony charges.
“Teamwork is what is responsible for making our overcrowded jail work as long as we have. Just like officers have not compromised on quality of their investigations, my office has not compromised the safety of this community simply to make jail space.
To better manage overcrowding, she says her office constantly evaluates Comal County’s jail population to identify low-risk inmates who would do well out on bond or “bond supervision.”
“Despite our overcrowded jail, our felony conviction rate has not waivered, our dismissal rate of five percent has not grown like Hays County with 33 percent, who has twice as many inmates housed out of county and dismissed 375 indictments.
Eradicating Domestic Violence
One of her campaign pledges includes continuing the fight to eradicate domestic violence.
In 2015, Tharp was named Prosecutor of the Year by the State Bar of Texas and the Texas District and County Attorney’s association for her work in the field of domestic violence. During the last state legislative session, she co-chaired the public policy board for the Texas Council on Family Violence. In 2018, she was also named Texas Council on Family Violence 2018 Partner for Change.
Last year, Comal County received a grant to fund one of the first domestic violence high-risk teams in Texas.
“Positive changes are underway, and our work to improve is never done,” she says.
Officers with county police departments are working the district attorney’s IT department to install new case-management systems that would standardize the way cases formatted.
District courts have added dockets to allow extra time for handling cases. A remodel of the Landa building, expected to be finished by January 2019, also will allow the DA’s office to process a higher volume of cases.
“In the meantime, I refuse to let political pressure change my standards for pleading down cases or dismissing them to clear jail beds, no matter what political opponents might say,” Tharp says.
Crystal Lake Benefited Canyon Lake
One of her prouder accomplishments is the teamwork law enforcement displayed during last August’s “Operation Crystal Lake” drug bust in Canyon Lake.
It resulted in the arrest of 39 suspected drugs dealers and the seizure of 11 pounds of methamphetamine. Since then, the price of methamphetamine has skyrocketed in Canyon Lake and supplies are scarce.
Tharp says she exceptionally proud of pro-active law enforcement in Comal County.
“As a lifelong resident, I am blessed with having grown up in a safe and thriving community. I want my children and the children of the future to experience the same freedoms, safety and security that I did as a child. I am proud of my solid track record of fighting to preserve the conservative community values, and I want to build upon the great work by serving a third term.”