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Candidate profiles: Victoria County District Attorney

By Gheni_Platenburg
Oct. 16, 2010 at 5:16 a.m.


On Nov. 2, the candidates behind the suggestive slogans "Law with order" and "Prosecutor not a politician" will vie for the position of Victoria County District Attorney.

Attorney Deborah Branch, 59, will face off against incumbent Steve Tyler, 50, who has held the position since 2006.

Despite claims of a 100 percent conviction rate for murder cases he has tried in the past and a 96 percent conviction rate in trying sex offender cases, Tyler's first-term in office has not been without its problems.

Tyler's problems mainly stem from his public clashes with the Victoria Police Department.

In May 2007, Tyler tried Victoria Police Officer Carlos Javier Echeverry on charges of sexually harassing a woman he stopped while on duty. Echeverry was acquitted of all charges, but Echeverry's trial started a rift between Tyler and Police Chief Bruce Ure.

Police later began an independent investigation into why former Victoria County Sheriff Michael Ratcliff, once Tyler's chief of staff, was not charged for sexually assaulting a teenage boy years ago. Ratcliff was later indicted and agreed to a plea deal and probation.

In 2008, Tyler indicted Ure on multiple counts, including misuse of official information and aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony, in connection with the Ratcliff investigation. The judge threw out all charges but aggravated perjury.

In May, Judge Stephen Williams threw out the aggravated perjury charge against Ure, saying the DA could not be both the victim and the prosecutor of the case. Tyler appealed the judge's dismissal.

Tyler then hired another attorney to represent the state; however, she failed to file some necessary briefs, which prompted Williams to recommend the Court of Appeals dismiss the appeal for want of prosecution. The Court of Appeals agreed.

However, the legal saga remains ongoing.

The cases against Victoria Police Lt. Ralph Buentello and former city attorney David Smith, the other two men Tyler indicted with Ure, are under review by a special prosecutor.

Mayor Will Armstrong was also indicted on similar charges, but all charges against him were dropped.

Despite their past legal issues, Tyler, whose slogan is "Prosecutor not a politician," recently ranked his ability to work with law enforcement on a scale of 1 to 10 as a 9.

"Ms. Branch's law with order is essentially taking orders. It's keeping everyone happy and who might those people be - people who don't want to put in any extra time, who don't want to go to trial because they like to take the easy way out," said Tyler during recent questioning. "A real peace officer wants your family to be safe. A real prosecutor wants the same things. That's the difference between a prosecutor and a politician.

Tyler's top campaign donors remained steadfast in supporting their candidate.

"I had some questions on his dispute with the city, but overall, he has done a good job and worked real hard," said Roland Carlson, a local attorney.

Meanwhile, Branch, who is the first candidate to ever be endorsed by the Victoria Police Officers Association, had her own opinions on the situation.

"It looked like we were out of control in Victoria," said Branch, who ranked herself as a 10 on the ability to work with law enforcement scale.

"We feel going forward in the future, Deborah gives us the best prospect for a future of working with the District Attorney's Office," said Herschel Buck, president of the Victoria Police Officer's Association. "We feel she is the best candidate for the job."

The candidates shared their reasons for wanting to take on the position.

"I seek the office of Victoria County Criminal District Attorney to prosecute in a just, lawful, orderly and commonsense manner, while proactively working to reduce juvenile membership in gangs and gang-related crimes; to minimize the victimization of crime victims and maximize punishment for those who commit violent crimes," said Branch. "I seek to uphold the law with order."

Tyler saw the position as an opportunity to help others.

"As a prosecutor, I have the privilege of helping victims, representing our community and righting wrongs," said Tyler. "Part of my job is to deter crime by ensuring that criminals suffer real consequences, and as a husband and father, I want all Victoria families to be safe."

Additionally, both expressed a desire to crack down on crime.

"I will work tirelessly with law enforcement and citizen groups to make our streets and neighborhoods safer," said Tyler. "Doing the right thing is not always easy, popular or politically expedient. I will not follow the criminal catch-and-release policies of the past or 'go along to get along' while ignoring what is wrong in our community."

"The District Attorney's office will seek harsh penalties against gang members and others who commit violent crimes," said Branch, who claimed to have an 85 percent winning rate in child sexual assault cases. "Among other pursuits, we will proactively protect families by vigorously prosecuting crimes against children and family members, and by teaming with law enforcement, community organizations and educational professionals to reduce juvenile gang associations and involvement."

She went on to say, "It is time for the District Attorney's office and local law enforcement to band together to protect Victoria's families. Concerted effort will result in greater prosecution opportunities."

Branch's supporters have faith she is the right candidate to get the job done.

"I think her qualifications speak for themselves. I think she has the ability to bring collaboration and harmony between all the law enforcement agencies, and I think that is a good thing," said Robby Burdge, CEO of Klean Corporation International.

CANDIDATE PROFILES

NAME: Deborah Branch

AGE: 59

CITY/COUNTY OF RESIDENCE: Victoria/Victoria County

OFFICE SEEKING: Criminal District Attorney

PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat

CURRENT OCCUPATION: Assistant District Attorney, 156th Judicial District

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Professional prosecutor with 15 years of prosecutorial experience, eight in Victoria's courts, seven in the surrounding counties. Branch enlisted in the Navy as a seaman and retired as a commander after 34 years of military experience. She was called to active duty after 9/11. Additionally, Branch has taught criminal justice students at Victoria College, and prosecutors at the National Advocacy Center. She is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

NAME: Stephen B. Tyler

AGE: 50

CITY/COUNTY OF RESIDENCE: Victoria

OFFICE SEEKING: Victoria County Criminal District Attorney

PARTY AFFILIATION: Republican

CURRENT OCCUPATION: Victoria County Criminal District Attorney

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: He worked in construction, served more than a decade on active duty as an Airborne Ranger Army Officer selected to command three Infantry units. He seeks challenging work in demanding occupations, and will always seek justice despite risks. He hold masters degrees in international relations and business administration, and belongs to the State Bar Foundation, comprising the top one-third of 1 percent of Texas lawyers. He is active in the community and church.

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