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Denton County District Attorney Race

Although I have mostly been writing about Collin County politics, I thought I’d add an article that came out recently on the District Attorney race in Denton County.  (Frisco is a mixture of Denton and Collin!)

Local attorney Brent Bowen is challenging the incumbent in the Republican primary.  Below is an article from the Dallas Morning News.

Candidates tout experience, heritage in DA race

12:04 AM CST on Sunday, February 7, 2010

By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer

Leadership is a key issue in the Republican race for Denton County district attorney: Incumbent Paul Johnson believes he has provided it for the office, while his opponent, Brent Bowen, thinks he can fill a leadership void.

Both men believe their backgrounds make them good leaders. Johnson points to his history as a self-made man, and Bowen proudly says he is a fourth-generation lawyer, with all those ancestors graduating from the Washburn School of Law in Kansas.

Johnson is running for the second time, having defeated his former boss, Bruce Isaacks, in 2006. This is Bowen’s first run at an elected position.

Paul Johnson

Johnson said he has streamlined the intake process that brings cases from police agencies to a grand jury for possible indictment. óCREDITó

The previous administration called individual officers with each agency to present their cases to a grand jury, he said. He has asked larger agencies to designate one officer to present all cases, keeping more officers on the street and fewer lining the courthouse walls waiting for their time to speak.

He has reduced the percentage of cases declined for prosecution from 43 percent to 15 percent, he said.

“And when we decline a case, that officer gets a telephone call telling them why we declined it,” Johnson said.

He has met with 38 police chiefs in the county, and they appear to be happy with his policies, he said, and he has saved the county money by refusing to take a vehicle allowance and by cutting a paid intern program in the office. In all, he has returned $200,000 to county commissioners in line-item budget items, he said.

Johnson said his home life growing up was not good but he never used that as a reason to do wrong.

“Life’s not fair, but you can’t use it as a crutch,” he said. “Whatever you choose, it’s on you.”

He started in the trenches as a misdemeanor prosecutor and moved up through the ranks.

“Prosecutors come to me for advice because they know I’ve done it all. That’s part of leadership,” Johnson said.

Bowen said the message he has received from county law enforcement agencies is that there is a “serious lack of leadership” in the district attorney’s office.

Brent Bowen

“They’re not really happy with the current administration,” Bowen said. “The officers I’m talking to are saying they are not told why their cases are dropped, and the police chiefs say they have no access to the current administration.” óCREDITó

One thing Bowen said he would immediately advocate is a drug court.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature mandated that each county with a population greater than 150,000 have a court set aside for drug cases, he said.

“We don’t have a drug court. There is a high percentage of felony cases that are drug-related,” Bowen said.

Bowen also would like to see drug and alcohol evaluations of defendants take place before plea agreements are entered. He wants to tailor probation terms to meet the circumstances instead of simply using “cookie cutter” probation agreements.

He also wants to update technology in the district attorney’s office, he said. The clerks’ offices have moved to a paperless system, so cases are available to lawyers at any time from laptop computers. The district attorney’s office is not there yet, he said. Sometimes a case has to be rescheduled because the file cannot be located.

Johnson made campaign promises to try cases himself, which he has not done, Bowen said, and that shows a lack of follow-through. But Bowen said he does not believe that is the role of the district attorney.

“The district attorney is an administrator, and he needs to design programs with the future of Denton County in mind,” Bowen said. “As a leader, you’re the motivator — the cheerleader. My great-grandfather read for the law. I’m fourth-generation, and I take a lot of pride in that. I take this law business seriously.”

DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is dfielder@dentonrc.com.

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