Bexar County judges worried about lack of prosecutors in District Attorney’s Office

Several district courts without prosecutors assigned to them

SAN ANTONIO – High-profile trials scheduled for 2023 are faced with uncertainty as the district attorney’s office has recently lost many attorneys.

The 226th District Court is ready for the new year but whether they will actually go to trial — and when — is in question.

Judge Velia Meza said that her court hasn’t had a lead prosecutor for about a month.

She isn’t the only judge dealing with the loss of a prosecutor.

In the past month alone, 16 people have resigned from the district attorney’s office, including lead prosecutor Mario Del Prado.

In 2021, Del Prado was the lead prosecutor in the Otis McKane death penalty case and was expected to be the lead prosecutor in January in the Andre McDonald case, which has drawn national attention.

“These jury trials are set months in advance and so only certain prosecutors know what’s going on, without that prosecutor being available cases have to be reset,” 379th District Court Judge Ron Rangel said.

District Attorney Joe Gonzales has said in the past that issues around retaining attorneys were due to low salaries compared to other counties.

“The issue is not simply a matter of funding, there’s more to it than that,” Rangel said.

“I don’t have a good sense of what’s happening, I just know that I ask to get a replacement and the DA’s office has been responsive but I don’t have a good grasp of what actually goes on,” Meza said.

In the meantime, according to Rangel, the backlog caused by the pandemic was expected to be resolved by March 2023. However, that now probably won’t happen with the loss of staff.

Defendants awaiting to go on trial can now possibly have their bonds reduced for not getting a speedy trial or we could even see cases get dismissed, judges said.

“The court system, the judges within the court system are trying very hard to make sure that we push the cases,” Rangel said. “But obviously, if we push too hard, you’re going to get results that the community may not be satisfied with.”

The district attorney’s office didn’t want to do an interview but did send a statement from DA Joe Gonzales:

“The end of term for any District Attorney is a time when prosecutors and staff consider their future and whether they plan to commit for another term. We have a number of prosecutors in our office that have been elected as Judges and will be taking their benches in January. We have employees that are retiring as well.For some time now, I have been publicly speaking about problems in our office with pay and workload. In an effort to streamline our administration and increase efficiency in our office, I have decided to eliminate both the Chief of Litigation and Chief of Major Crimes positions and plan to restructure those into deputy chief positions. We have been losing our experienced attorneys to surrounding counties and private firms offering higher pay and lower caseloads. This problem is not unique to Bexar County. I thank the Commissioner’s Court for cost of living pay raises that we have already seen over the last year and continue to work with them to further address this issue. I want to assure the citizens of Bexar County and especially the victims of crime in our community that their cases will not be unnecessarily delayed because of staffing issues.”

About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.