Duty Endorsed by the Austin American Statesman
Williamson County residents relished the tough reputation of its courts and prosecutors until the Michael Morton case stood law and order on its head.
Morton, you’ll recall, is the former Williamson County resident who spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Morton was convicted of killing his wife, Christine, in 1986 on circumstantial evidence. Morton steadfastly maintained his innocence until DNA tests — consistently resisted by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley — were finally conducted and pointed to another suspect who remained at large for the 25 years. That other suspect, Mark Norwood, is awaiting trial in the Christine Morton homicide and is also a suspect of another killing in Travis County.
The Morton case cast serious doubts on declarations by officials there that the Williamson County justice system — while tough — is basically fair.
The fallout from the case resulted in an investigation into the conduct of District Judge Ken Anderson, who prosecuted Morton when he was district attorney. The matter is not yet resolved. The Morton case was also instrumental in Bradley’s defeat in the May Republican primary. Bradley succeeded Anderson as district attorney.
Bradley lost to Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty whose independent streak has put her in conflict with Williamson County commissioners in the past.
When we endorsed Duty’s candidacy last spring, we expressed admiration for that independent nature as well as for the changes she envisioned for the district attorney’s office.
The changes Duty outlines include an open file discovery system so defense attorneys can get a good look at the evidence prosecutors will use against their clients. Duty also favors beefing up alternative sentencing programs and establishing a veterans’ court. As the name implies, the veterans’ court would handle cases involving military veterans accused of crimes.
Nothing has happened in the months since the May election to change our minds. We recommend Duty to Williamson County voters in Tuesday’s general election.
Duty faces a challenge from Georgetown attorney Ken Crain, a Democrat. Crain, a Navy veteran, is running on a platform of “restoring integrity to the Williamson County District Attorney’s office.”
It’s a noble goal and one he shares with opponent Duty. We have no doubt about Crain’s sincerity, but restoring that integrity will take more than simple desire. It will be a tough job and Duty has demonstrated a commitment to principle. Crain’s good intentions, on the other hand, are just that — intentions — for the moment.
Duty has been county attorney since 2005, and there’s no denying there have been rough spots during her tenure.
Duty’s feud with the Williamson County Commissioners Court certainly consumed ink and air time and some good will.
A county attorney’s responsibilities include defending county from legal attack, but Duty found herself in a battle with her clients over what she believed to be an open meetings law violation in 2010. Duty claimed commissioners hired a lawyer to represent them against charges that a meeting was not properly posted.
It wasn’t the only clash between commissioners and their lawyer, but Duty notes she and the commissioners are moving toward making peace since her victory in the GOP primary last May.
A certain amount of tension between a Texas county’s elected officials is normal and maybe even healthy.
Williamson County’s courthouse politics were characterized as a province by and for “good ol’ boys.” That reputation as a haven for good ol’ boys is not as stout as it once was — due largely to turnover and perhaps the election of three women to the commissioners court.
Duty has demonstrated a willingness to go against the flow if she feels the need. Tough-minded independence is a good qualities in a district attorney if leavened with some compassion and understanding of the community. Duty possesses those traits. She is a strong candidate and will not only restore the district’s attorney’s lost reputation but reinvigorate the office as well.
Jana Duty and WCSA President Ron Cole
It is with great humility that I accept the charge given to me on Tuesday May 29th by the people of Williamson County. I'm honored that the voters have put their faith in me, and I will go to work every day to represent their best interests and to see that justice is served.
This campaign was a true grassroots effort which relied on individuals to spread the word to their friends and neighbors that, together, we could make a change and restore the public's faith in the District Attorney's office. This is a victory for our entire community, and it would have never happened without the good people of Williamson County who believed in our cause and who worked relentlessly to play their part. Every single person who hammered in a sign, knocked on doors or worked a polling place can take credit for this victory. My gratitude to them is infinite.
I look forward to our victory on November 6th, and I ask every citizen of Williamson County, whether they voted for me or Mr. Bradley, for their support and for their prayers. God bless.