Texas Special Prosecution Unit and the PLS

Welcome back to the Pre-Law Society, which has much going on. To kick off our second meeting we held elections for Secretary and the Vice President of Finance positions, and for the main event, we had Jack Choate, Executive Director of the Texas Special Prosecution Unit.

It was a busy night because we had two officer vacancies, and a third officer wasn’t available for his duties. So, we recruited help, and got the program underway.

Three people ran for the Secretary position: Emma Anderson…

…Saara Maknojia…

….and Richard Tran.

All did very well speaking, but when the vote was completed…

…Richard got the nod, winning without a runoff in a three-person race.

For the Vice President of Finance position there were two competitors: Emily Albright…

…and Erin Juarez.

In a first for the Pre-Law Society, there was a tie! Since we have no precedent or rule for how to guide such a scenario, we had to decide on the spot. The class–and the candidates–opted for another set of speeches. First was Emily Albright…

…and then Erin Juarez.

From this, Emily–an Accounting major–emerged as the winner.

Many congratulations to both Emily and Richard, and many thanks to Emma, Erin, and Saara for putting their necks out their and being part of our organization.

In other business, we quickly took votes on minutes, bank account business, registering for Orglink, and a discussion of upcoming events. But the main attraction was our speaker, Jack Choate, Executive Director of the Special Prosecutions Unit.

Choate attended University of Texas for undergraduate and Texas Tech for law school. He went on to work as Assistant District Attorney here in Huntsville, was then hired by the TDCAA, which trains prosecutors, and now he works for the Texas Prosecution Unit. Amidst all this, he also served on the Huntsville City Council for three terms!

Even as a college student, Choate knew he wanted to be a lawyer, and he had experiences with Baker & Botts law firm, and as an intern in a DA’s office that reinforced that sense.

There are twenty attorneys at the special prosecutor’s office. Being responsible for prosecuting crimes on prison units–and for persistent sexual offenders following their release–Choate has seen much that is unpleasant, and he described some of those cases to us.

Because resources are scarce, the prosecutors must concentrate on the worst of the crimes and offenders, and this can be both emotionally and psychologically grueling. In fact, Choate mentioned that he worries about the mental health of his staff, but as a team, they try to focus on the good they are doing for victims and for the number of potential victims that they preemptively save.

Choate also discussed salaries for prosecutors, for those of us who want to pursue that career. For some counties, it can be as little as the low 40,000s, but for larger counties it might be close to $200,000 or so.

Richard Tran, our new Secretary, asked Choate how he maintains a positive, healthy outlook when he has experience so much negativity. Choate noted that he worries most about his staff, who see things from the front lines. One thing he does to provide a positive environment is to bring in a psychiatrist each year to train staff on coping techniques, work-life separation, and warning signs that the negativity is affecting you. But Choate also highlighted the fact that speaking for those without a voice is inherently rewarding, and that his job simply requires a pursuit of the truth, and this knowledge is liberating. It also leads him to hire based primarily on character, rather than those who went to Ivy League schools or the highest LSAT scores.

Jade Miller asked whether Choate believed he ever prosecuted an innocent person, to which he responded, “I certainly hope not!” Choate spoke about the problems of cognitive and implicit biases, how he undertakes training to reduce such a likelihood, and his adherence to the truth. This topic also prompted a discussion of the Michael Morton case, and the tragic case that led to Morton spending 25 years in prison, despite being innocent.

It was an interesting, educational, and even inspiring meeting…

…and all the more so because Choate stayed for another 45 minutes or so, answering questions and motivating students.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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