In next month’s primary, Republican voters in Galveston County will decide whether to re-elect two-term district attorney Jack Roady, or choose first-time firebrand Tom Dickens to replace him.
While Dickens, a Galveston resident who has never run for or held public office, has tried to catch attention with a long campaign based on criticism of Roady and his office, it remains to be seen whether he has a real chance to unseat the incumbent.
Roady is a Santa Fe resident who unseated Democrat Kurt Sistrunk in 2010 as part of a wave of Republican wins in county politics. Before coming to Galveston County, he was an assistant district attorney in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Roady last week said he was running on his record, and not responding to Dickens’ jabs on social media.
“They can look at how we have performed,” Roady said. “We have built a reputation across this state for excellence and integrity in the way we conduct our affairs.”
Roady points to being named the Prosecutor of the Year by the State Bar of Texas in 2016 as a sign of his reputation. The bar recognized Roady’s efforts leading a review of questionable DNA evidence uncovered by his office as a result of faulty testing procedures.
The review resulted in hundreds of cases needing to be reviewed, both in Galveston County and across the state. While it might have resulted in some guilty verdicts being overturned, Roady pushed for the wide-ranging review.
“A prosecutor’s duty is to see that justice is done,” Roady said. “That means you’ve got to make sure that the evidence you bring to court is reliable — that jurors and judges can trust that evidence.”
It’s not always an easy argument to make, particularly when his office faces increased attention during a criminal trial, only to see it end with a mistrial or not guilty verdict.
Just this week, a capital murder trial of a League City man accused of killing his 6-year-old stepdaughter ended in a mistrial after a jury could not agree on a verdict after three days of deliberation. Prosecutors have said they intend to retry to case.
Roady, however, said he doesn’t measure the success of the office entirely by its conviction rates.
“Our duty is to see that justice is done,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you only try the slam-dunk cases. The cases that go to trial are going to be the difficult ones to prove. Sometimes, those cases are going to end in a not guilty.”
Still, Roady said prosecutors in Galveston County have about an 89 percent conviction rate on felony cases.
Since beginning his campaign last March, Dickens has criticized Roady for not being tough enough on crime and for focusing too much on statistics in his office.
“I just think it’s about time to have a district attorney’s office that’s not concerned about statistics, that’s concerned about justice for all our citizens,” he said. “Whether you’re a victim, whether you’re accused, whether you’re someone who is falsely accused.”
Dickens has taken a wide range of positions on criminal justice, sometimes at seemingly contradictory angles. He criticizes the district attorney’s role in the overcrowded county jail, which he said comes from high bonds. He’s not committed to suggesting lower bond amounts if he’s elected, however.
“There is no magic pill,” he said.
Dickens, a retired civil attorney and police officer who has never worked as a prosecutor, said poor vetting was the reason why 48 percent of misdemeanor citations are dismissed by prosecutors. A 2017 report about the crowding problem at the jail names misdemeanor vetting as one of the reasons for the issue.
Dickens acknowledged that many misdemeanor citations are written by police officers without consulting with the DA’s office, and said he did not think, if he were elected, that the office needed to commit more resources to misdemeanor vetting to bring the number up.
“I don’t think you need more resources,” he said. “I think you need to take five minutes to question an accused and gather that information if they’re willing to provide it.”
He said that prosecutors needed to get on the same page as police officers, so fewer misdemeanors are dismissed.
Dickens’ campaign has been mostly self-financed, and the candidate has done much of his messaging through posts on his Facebook page. The posts are often long, and sometimes focus on specific trials or cases in which Dickens asserts Roady’s office has failed to deliver justice.
On Tuesday, for instance, Dickens wrote about the coming capital murder trial of Dominque Stokes, a Galveston man arrested in 2011 and charged in 2012 who still hasn’t gone to trial. Dickens’ post criticizes the length between Stokes’ arrest and a trial date, which is now set for April.
Dickens implied that the wait would have consequences on the trial.
“In February of 2018 a motion has been filed to exclude the death penalty because, due to delay, evidence has gone missing, important witnesses have died, and because mitigation evidence no longer is available,” Dickens wrote.
A review of documents in the case, however, shows Stokes’ lawyers don’t blame delays in prosecution for the missing evidence.
Rather the defense argues that medical records and character witnesses from Stokes’ youth are missing. Some of the information was lost during Hurricane Ike in 2008, three years before the killing even happened, they said.
The defense motion does not mention the district attorney’s office at all. Still, Dickens stood by his own criticism of the case.
Dickens has also claimed the District Attorney’s office does not send prosecutors to crime scenes, and that the office has stopped prosecuting “corner drug dealers”
Roady said both of those assertions are untrue — he called the claims “absolutely ridiculous” — but added that his campaign has mostly not tried to correct the record on Dickens’ statements.
“Whenever you have an opponent, there’s going to be things that they allege,” Roady said. “Sometimes they’re truthful, sometimes they’re not. We have always taken the high road in the term of our campaign.”
Dickens said his information came from police sources, who he declined to name in an interview with The Daily News.
The campaign has apparently rankled some in the district attorney’s office.
Dickens also acknowledged that some assistant district attorneys have publicly said they would quit if he were elected to be their boss. If elected, Dickens said he didn’t intend to fire those people.
“I don’t have any people,” he said. “I told them I respect that choice. I don’t have any plans. I understand keeping your job. But there are limits to what I can be called before it tests my patience.”
The winner of the primary race will probably be the next Galveston County Criminal District Attorney because no Democrats are running for the position. The district attorney serves a four-year term. In the last fiscal year, the district attorney earned $161,640.
Early voting starts Tuesday. Election Day is March 6.