Bexar County voters have two strong choices in this year’s race for a new district attorney.
We recommend Democrat Joe D. Gonzales, who will be a forceful advocate for victims of crime, but also a voice for reform in the criminal justice system.
Before we dive into the reason for our preference for Gonzales, it’s important to note that we believe Republican Tylden Shaeffer would generally make a good district attorney.
Shaeffer has nearly 30 years of legal experience, serving as a Bexar County prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. He is board-certified in criminal law. As a prosecutor, he has taken more than 150 trials to jury and secured two death penalty convictions. If elected, he said, he would focus on family and domestic violence prosecutions and create a cyber crimes unit.
Gonzales also has nearly 30 years of legal experience, having worked as a prosecutor in Bexar and Harris counties before switching to the defense side. In that time, he has more than 200 jury and nonjury trials, and has defended death penalty cases. He has also served as a municipal and magistrate judge.
If elected, Gonzales has said he would bring a greater focus to family and domestic violence prosecutions, and he has advocated for enhanced training for prosecutors and greater transparency in the district attorney’s office.
What sets Gonzales apart is his commitment to criminal justice reform for people accused of nonviolent crimes. He sees a need to reform a bail system that too often detains poor defendants who simply can’t make bond while a wealthy defendant charged with the same crime can post bond and be released.
Such pretrial detention — based on wealth, not risk to the community — can make all the difference between being determined guilty and innocent. If the choice is staying in jail or pleading guilty and being sentenced to time served, too many choose the latter regardless of innocence or the chance to prove it.
Gonzales also supports citing and releasing people for certain nonviolent offenses, such as marijuana possession, driving with an invalid license and small amounts of shoplifting, and he has advocated for a greater use of pretrial diversion as a way to rehabilitate people accused of crimes.
This isn’t the traditional rhetoric the public is used to hearing from someone vying to be the county’s top prosecutor, but it reflects common sense when it comes to resources and priorities. It also reflects the bipartisan tenor of criminal justice reform sweeping across this nation. Being smart about nonviolent crime and the effects of cash bail on the poor does not preclude being tough on violent crime. Again, the focus must be on the risk to the public.
Gonzales has taken an unusual path to this moment. He had once been a supporter of Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood. But that changed in 2017 after LaHood threatened to shut down and destroy Gonzales’ law practice. The threat was made in District Judge Lori Valenzuela’s chambers during a murder trial. The argument was over the last-minute disclosure of a sexual encounter between a prosecutor and a key witness.
Gonzales then challenged LaHood in the Democratic primary and crushed him.
LaHood’s tenure in office has been turbulent and unsettling. He has espoused anti-vaccination views, berated members of the public, failed to partner with local law enforcement agencies, blocked reporters from news conferences, resisted meaningful reforms and flubbed the county’s cite-and-release program.
Bexar County residents deserve better from their district attorney. They deserve an experienced attorney with a deep understanding of criminal law, who treats others with respect, builds partnerships and will run the office with ethical purpose.
Shaeffer and Gonzales hit these marks. If elected, either will restore integrity to the office. But the promise of Gonzales’ candidacy is that not only will he be a focused and effective prosecutor, he will also stand out as a voice for meaningful criminal justice reform.
We recommend Gonzales for district attorney.