Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Just Decision

Sometimes there is a person who makes those annual silly contests for Person of the Year worth our while. In 2008, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has turned around an errant justice system, and in naming him their Texan of the Year, the Dallas Morning News has made a great choice.

Mr. Watkins has trained a spotlight on the flaws in the system, and two years after becoming the state's first black district attorney, he is suddenly the new face of Texas jurisprudence.

For his efforts to reform an imperfect criminal justice system and for his willingness to stake out politically precarious territory somewhere between "hug a thug" and "convict at all costs," Mr. Watkins is the 2008 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

In his own words, DA Watkins tells us a lot about what has made him seek to open a badly run justice system to review, resulting in overturning convictions on DNA evidence, a process that has freed 19 innocent men to date.

This is about progress. In order to have progress, we have to talk about failures of the system. And to be absolutely honest with you, I don't think that [former District Attorney Henry] Wade was a bad person. I just think that he was a product of his environment. As a result of that, we had all these bad things that were done. ... In order for us to move past it, we've got to deal with it. There are going to be some hurt feelings as a result of that. But at the end of the day, it's the right thing to do."

"With power, there comes a lot of responsibility. I think a lot of times, in the past, we've had individuals who have misused it. I just hope that as I go along in this job that I will always have a respect for it and never get into the position of misusing what's been given to me."

"I'm surprised that people who are intelligent and who have been in this field for a long time don't even want to give any credibility to that thought [that an innocent man has been executed]. It's obvious that that's happened."

"On some of our more serious cases ... I just kind of sit down there and listen, and then I go back to talk to the jury [after the trial]. Without a doubt everyone that I've talked to, they all say that we believe in what you're doing because when you ask us to convict someone and take their freedom, we've seen the other side of it. You've used your resources to ensure that no one's wrongly convicted. We believe that you would only ask if it's absolutely necessary. So, we have a lot of credibility with the citizens."

"Politics is the greatest equalizer. You can come from the most meager existence and make a difference. That's the good thing about this country. I saw that was my entree into being in a position of making a positive impact on where I live."

We are very fortunate that in Dallas' 2006 election, Craig Watkins won the office he holds, and that he has used to benefit the city in a very big way. It is a hopeful sign that by turning political offices back into the right place for public servants, an informed electorate can turn back the many years of crimes by elected officials. Hopefully, that can begin to happen on a national level on January 20th.

Voters for a return of justice have earned the right to be proud.

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