Prosecutors, like many lawyers across Texas, have started working from home.
As the Lone Star State’s major metropolitan areas declared stay-home orders this week, the district attorney offices in Houston and San Antonio announced that they’re still performing key functions, but with limited staff in the office and many lawyers working from home. It’s much the same in Dallas, which was the first Texas city to announce a stay-home order for everyone but essential workers.
“We sent a lot of the support staff home with work to do. We’ve really ratcheted down the number of attorneys that we have. Some of the judges are still holding court, in court, so we have to have people there, of course. The rest we are trying to do remotely,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, who noted that he’s still working in the office every day. “Some people have said, ‘Don’t go in,’ but I just don’t see how I can function from home. It’s a 500-person office.”
He said he’s put a priority on working through the cases of criminal-defendants who are still in jail, have nonviolent offenses and can safely be released from detention amid the coronavirus outbreak. Prosecutors are looking especially closely at the cases of COVID-19 vulnerable defendants such as the elderly, he said.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office announced that her offices are closed to the public and most of her prosecutors and staff will be working remotely until further notice.
“While urging all members of the public to follow the instructions of elected leaders and health experts for social distancing and other actions to limit the spread to the virus, I am ensuring that some aspects of my staff’s work for the public continue without interruption,” District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement.
For example, prosecutors are still ready to conduct any court setting that a judge schedules through video conference. Remote appearances will be the norm until further notice.
Most prosecutors are also home in San Antonio. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales noted in a statement that some of his staff are necessary to seek protective orders, appear at magistrations, present to grand juries, review new arrest cases and appear at limited court hearings.
But prosecutors will no longer meet face-to-face with victims and witnesses. Instead, they’ll talk about cases over the phone. The office is asking people who need protective orders to call ahead or fill out an online intake form. If they meet legal standards, they can make an appointment to visit the DA’s office to sign a sworn affidavit.
“In the last week, we have reduced our staffing in an effort to limit face-to-face contact and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, in a stricter move to protect our staff and the community, we have no choice but to do what most are being asked to do: stay home. Even with a limited staff, our focus continues to be the safety of our community,” Gonzales said.
It’s much the same in Dallas, said an email by Kim Leach, spokeswoman of the Dallas County District Attorney’s office.
“We are working with limited staff with the majority of employees working from home,” Leach said.
No one from the district attorney’s offices in either Tarrant or Travis counties returned a message seeking comment before deadline.