We understand the importance of the District Attorney’s Office in a community. The way it is ran may set the tone for the community. Because of this important role and a highly anticipated election year, where there are two candidates that are not running for re-election; we find it important to ask some questions. The first series of questions are simply introduction, high overview understanding of the candidates methodology. We hope to engage the candidates more through this type of Q & A so you may decide who is best for you in your community.
Why did Mr. Higgins decide to run for Hays County District Attorney:
“I decided to run maybe a year ago, when the prospect of Wes Mau continuing in office unopposed appeared to be a certainty. I was approached by one of our judges who told me I needed to run. I had never before considered it. And I resisted the idea for a few days. When the judge pressed me again and I asked “why me?” he said it had to be me because I would do the right thing. I thought it over and decided that yes, I would do the right thing(s) as DA since I have no ambitions beyond seeing Hays County become a better, more equitable place to live. I just love it here.”
What would Mr. Higgins do in the first first six months [if elected]:
“I am well situated to begin the work of making changes in the DA’s office from Day One. I have worked in the courthouse and with our DA’s office for twenty years now. I know the people in the DA’s office and have good relations with them all. So I won’t be wasting any time getting to know the lay of the land. I work that land every day.
My first six months will see a Mental Health Court firmly established. I will bring a change in enforcement priorities which will ease the overcrowding in our jail, repair the unbelievable backlog of our trial dockets, and save taxpayers money. Our county now spends millions every year processing minor cases to the maximum, and I will put an end to that which I hope lasts long into the future. Hays County is a grown and growing county, now over a quarter million in population, and our DA’s office must grow up to meet the new challenges that growth presents. We cannot continue to pretend it’s the 1980s here.”
Mr Higgins explains his experience and the benefits to the Hays County Community:
“This is the sharpest difference between myself and my opponent. My experience is almost entirely within the Hays County courthouse, working with and against the Hays County DA. I work exclusively in Hays County criminal courts, and have for twenty years. This means I understand our DA’s office, I have good relationships with the prosecutors and support staff there. I know them and they know me. The same goes for our judges. I have long experience with all our judges; I will not need time to build bridges with the courts. I know their particular leanings and I have a decades-long track record with all our judges of honest dealing and candid action. We do not always agree, but I do have their respect as an honest advocate for the Constitution. And last, my twenty years in Hays County has given me a close view of the needs of our criminal justice system, from structural issues like the creation of a Mental Health Court to policy issues like reform of our enforcement priorities and the decision to bring cases to trial. My existing professional relationships within the courthouse, together with my own understanding of Hays County’s present needs, makes me uniquely qualified to serve.”
What the Hays County community should know about Mr. Higgins:
“I am a Hays County guy. I am a little stubborn about it too. I’m not fond of Austin or New Braunfels. I like it here, so I live here and work here and spend my money here. I live in Wimberley with my family and two good dogs. I went to the University of Texas School of Law, which they say is a good one. Before that, Southern Methodist University, where I graduated with honors in history. I still read history. Also I am a former, or maybe you’d say failed, musician. If I had become famous I wouldn’t have become a lawyer, which I actually like a lot more than playing in a band. I am the only child of a single mother who worked hard to make me a good life. She gave me the profoundest respect for women and the drive to stand up to bullies. I have a grown son who makes me proud every day. And maybe the community should know that I’ve been a man who complains about the quality of public servants. I expect them to rise to the calling of service, not the ambition of power. Which is to say that if I am fortunate enough to earn the votes to make me District Attorney, I do not desire any greater office or other role. I believe that I am the right person for this job, and not some other job in government.”
Mr. Higgins explains his views on the biggest problems in the Hays County justice system:
“Among a tangle of existing problems, if I were to point at one in particular, it would have to be misguided leadership in the DA’s office. Our current DA has held office for two terms, running unopposed both times. All other problems stem from the failure of our current DA to respond to the changing times. The largest single issue is the incredible backlog of weak and minor cases, all held for trial by a DA that is unmoved by the crisis in our courts. Second, punitive jail and bond approaches have created a logistical and fiscal nightmare for our Sheriff, who is responsible for holding inmates in custody. Having outgrown our county jail many years ago, the county now houses inmates awaiting trial in dozens of other counties, and even as far away as Oklahoma and Louisiana. Every day, Hays County pays these other places to hold our inmates. It’s many thousands of dollars a day. This is an untenable financial burden for taxpayers. As DA I will repair this disaster, always bearing public safety in mind as the most important priority. But for a person to spend months in our jail awaiting trial for a drug possession case is not only unfair to that person, but also to our county’s taxpayers. Bringing sensible public safety and fiscal responsibility to the system will alleviate these problems and allow us to use resources to reform the DA’s office so that it can pursue justice without waste.”
Mr. Higgins belief and methodology on rehabilitation, sentencing, and decisions to prosecute:
“I believe that rehabilitation is an important goal of the justice system, to be balanced with other goals like public safety, judicial economy, and crime prevention. I am not happy with the available options for rehabilitation, all of which involve being locked up or being threatened with it. For example, think of a case where someone is arrested for drug possession. They enter a plea agreement for probation. Sounds like rehabilitation, right? But the first rehabilitative effort means being in jail for ten or twelve weeks to complete a set of classes about why drugs are bad. Now, the probationer is discharged from jail, but their job is lost, their housing is lost, their transportation repossessed, their children may be in the care of the state, and even their pets are gone. Twelve weeks in jail is no joke. It is life altering. So maybe our probationer has been instructed in the evils of drug use, but has no way to re-establish their livelihood. Without a job or stable housing, no one can manage probation. A few months later some misstep leads them into court again, where the judge will decide whether to revoke their probation and sentence them to prison. It’s a whirlpool for the person, and no matter how hard they swim, they have been set up to be flushed down the drain.
For me, that pattern is disgusting. It doesn’t look like rehabilitation, but that’s what we call it. Rehabilitation, to be honest and effective, cannot be achieved by making success an impossibility. Frankly, the state is not great at rehabilitation. Our system is structured to punish crime, even if we call it rehabilitation. And this leads to the question of decisions to prosecute…
As DA, I will work to create out-of-court opportunities for rehabilitation, a chance to right a wrong without placing the offender in the hands of the prison system. This will require seasoned prosecutors and cooperative courts. Fortunately, Hays County is blessed with both. Various pre-trial agreements can be created to bring about the results we want to see, from Restorative Justice to a new Drug Court. The prison system is not the place to correct people with medical addiction issues.
As for sentencing, I have a strong belief that what works is for punishment to be fair and swift. If a person is charged with a crime, that charge should be addressed and disposed as quickly as possible, and in a way that the person understands is fair. That is the formula for avoiding recidivism. If the resolution takes four years, as many many cases do now, then the bad conduct is a distant memory and the only thing the defendant learns is that the system is broken. And if the punishment is too harsh, the only thing learned is that the system is harsh. But the goal is to have a person learn something else, and to adjust to that learning. When the lesson is that bad conduct leads to swift and fair punishment, the data shows that a person will behave accordingly and without resentment.
Of course there are those cases that make the news, cases in which some terrible violence has occurred. While I am able to understand that the culprit is a person with rights, etc., I am firmly dedicated to the goal of sentencing that person to as long a prison term as possible. And I will look to Hays County juries to decide what that sentence should be. It is not just a DA, but the people who live in Hays County who should set the punishment for crimes that cannot be rehabilitated away.
Last, as to these issues, I believe that minor drug possession cases are not significant enough to be prosecuted as wrathfully as is the current practice. It clogs the courts, it clogs the jail, and it overburdens our prosecutors. Not every drug case is an addiction issue. I will use the discretion of the office to reduce the number of minor drug possession cases currently taking up half our dockets. “
Mr. Higgins take on assuring that public officials perform their duties legally and ethically:
I intend to establish a Public Integrity Unit within the DA’s office. The incredible growth of Hays County demands that we accept that we are an emerging urban center. While Hays is still a Hill Country paradise, the explosion in population requires us to grow up. I will assign investigators and prosecutors to this important division, both to hold public officials accountable and to make it plain to all that Hays County cannot be corrupted by the money and power growing in our community.
Thank you for the questions. I am happy to follow up on any answers. Let me know if you have other questions.
We hope you find the answers provided by Mr. Higgins, to be informative, enlightening, and responsive.
We want the Hays County community to be informed about their candidates; especially, in the District Attorney race.
We will post Mr. Higgins opponents responses; as well.