DA candidate hopes to follow father

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

June 27, 2017 at 10:06 p.m.
Updated June 27, 2017 at 10:35 p.m.

Constance Filley Johnson

Constance Filley Johnson   contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

The daughter of a longtime Victoria County district attorney is challenging the three-term incumbent.

Constance Filley Johnson announced Tuesday that she will run for the office, which has been held by Stephen Tyler since 2007.

They will face each other in the Republican primary on March 6.

If elected, Johnson said she will re-examine how to use county resources to keep residents safe.

Specifically, she said she thinks Tyler's policy of taking every misdemeanor driving while intoxicated case to trial has strained those resources.

Although the policy no longer exists, the DA's office currently offers plea deals that some think are unfair and don't consider the facts of each case. Johnson thinks that continues to force misdemeanor DWI cases to trial and burns out assistant district attorneys.

It's important assistant district attorneys stick around because that not only serves justice, but the taxpayers well, she said, pointing to rising indigent defense costs as evidence.

In 2016, indigent defense costs for Victoria County rose to more than $1 million. Specifically, the cost of indigent defense at the county courts-at-law, where misdemeanor DWI cases are tried, rose from $227,361.84 in 2015 to $251,555.27 in 2016.

As of May 31, the indigent defense costs for Victoria County were $402,346.40. About $97,000 of that is in the county courts-at-law, said Nora Brosig Kucera, the pre-trial services coordinator. Johnson also differs with the incumbent on the specialty courts, the juvenile detention center and grand jury reports.

She was a founding member of a specialty court for those charged with DWI a second time. It was created in 2008. She also authored a letter of support for the Gulf Bend Community Collaborative on behalf of the local defense bar.

The Collaborative comprises representatives from the law enforcement, medical and nonprofit communities. It's been meeting for more than a year to think of ways to divert people with mental illness from jails.

"It's an investment to focus on addressing the underlying issues of people who continue to break the law and end up back in the court system rather than jail them," she said.

Later, she clarified that those charged with a violent crime must be handled differently.

Her opinion on specialty courts, she said, is shaped by research that shows they are successful and by her experience as an educator and then as a Safe and Drug Free Schools coordinator at the Region III Education Service Center. In that role, Johnson was responsible for implementing drug and violence prevention programs in 40 school districts in South Texas, she said.

Johnson is also a proponent of the juvenile detention center. Tyler, meanwhile, paid a consultant $135,000 to study the center when its efficiency and safety was questioned in 2015.

Additionally, Johnson does not favor a grand jury preparing a report when it declines to indict a peace officer. A Victoria grand jury prepared such reports several times in the past until the district clerk refused to accept them. Then, Tyler asked for the Texas Attorney General's opinion. The AG wrote that grand juries must only issue indictments.

Johnson said she will be transparent if elected, though.

"I think the prosecutor has the discretion to make general statements without going into things that are secret within grand jury about why cases were charged or not charged," she said. "Unless a case will be jeopardized or the law says that information can't be shared, the information of any government agency or leader is the public's information and needs to be shared accordingly."

While Johnson is running on a platform of being fiscally conservative, Tyler is touting his experience as a prosecutor.

"I've tried well over 100 jury trials and, you know, when I took office, we had double-digit murders per year and an ongoing gang problem. We've done quite a bit to clean that up," he said.

Johnson's father, George Filley, served as the DA from 1983 to 1998. The two currently work as criminal defense lawyers in the Crossroads.

Should Johnson be elected, her father will retire or no longer practice in Victoria County, she said.

"I am a hometown girl who thinks we can do a better job," she said.



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