In this era of alternative solutions for criminal justice, the candidates for Dallas County district attorney are touting reform and innovation.
So who’s best equipped to pump fresh ideas into criminal prosecution and public safety?
At her campaign kickoff Tuesday, former state District Judge Elizabeth Frizell said she was the best choice, while casting Democratic Party rival John Creuzot and incumbent Republican Faith Johnson as relics of the past who would retreat to the “lock them all up” policies of the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’m the only Democrat in the race who started to address this a decade ago, and now I’m continuing on that journey,” Frizell said during a news conference announcing her candidacy. “We cannot go back to the leadership style of the ’80s and ’90s.”
Not surprisingly, Frizell’s comments riled Creuzot, a former criminal court judge renowned for his pioneering diversion programs that treat problems such as drug abuse and mental illness as an alternative to prison. He’s in the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Hall of Fame and is one of the most decorated judges in the nation.
“There’s no one in the state of Texas who has rejected those policies as clear and forcefully as I have,” Creuzot said in response to Frizell. “What I achieved was the model for every other diversion program in this state.”
Incumbent District Attorney Faith Johnson was also incredulous about Frizell’s comments.
She touted her new program designed to expunge minor crimes so offenders have a better shot at landing a job, the office’s 14 diversion programs and her placement of offices in neighborhoods as evidence that she’s progressive.
“I’ve been on the job less than 90 days and my record shows that I’m not in the 1990s,” she said. “I’m all the way in the 22nd century.”
Frizell, who resigned this week as a criminal court judge, was part of a wave of Democrats who swept Dallas County in the 2006 elections. That was the year Democrat Craig Watkins was first elected district attorney and started a “smart on crime” approach that relied less on tough prison sentences and more on keeping people out of the criminal justice system.
Watkins also focused on exonerating those who were wrongfully convicted of crimes.
In 2006, Creuzot and Johnson were Republican judges. Johnson lost her seat to Democrat Tracy Holmes in that election, while Creuzot switched to the Democratic Party and won re-election in 2008.
His opponent in the Democratic primary that year, Hiram McBeth, unsuccessfully tried to use Creuzot’s former party affiliation as a campaign issue. He now supports Creuzot’s campaign for district attorney.
“The leadership style was Republican,” Frizell said of the county criminal justice system before Democrats took control. “That Democratic leadership leads us in a different direction.”
She added that she was a “blue-blood Democrat all the way.”
“Never a Republican or a flip-flopper,” she said, responding to a question about Creuzot. “I’m not a Democrat for politics. I’m a Democrat because that’s what I am.”…..