All signs point to Earle’s retirement as district attorney. The first indication I received was an e-mail from a prospective candidate:
Paul, I am writing to inform you of my decision to commence an exploratory campaign to become the next District Attorney of Travis County. If, as I expect, Ronnie decides to retire at the end of his current term, I intend to do everything humanly possible to succeed him ….
In the event that I do become a candidate for District Attorney – and I have good reason to believe that I will soon have that opportunity – I hope that we will be able to count on your support.
The e-mail came from Rick Reed, an attorney who I got to know through Tom DeLay’s successful challenge to his indictment for conspiracy. Reed fashioned a winning argument but he had a losing court (of Criminal Appeals).
Ronnie Earle has never claimed to be a great lawyer, but he has been a great DA for this town. A DA is supposed to be the conscience of the community, a role too many DAs spurn while trying to push the ethical envelope to secure convictions. Hamilton Burger had it right in the old Perry Mason TV series. (He was a little more hard-nosed in the novels.) The job of a DA is to seek justice, and that’s what Earle has done. He has as good a sense of what the people of Travis County want as anybody could. He’s made some mistakes–the Kay Bailey Hutchison felony prosecution being the worst, and I have yet to be persuaded that Tom DeLay actually broke the law–but he is honest and fair. He is particularly adept in his role as head of the Public Integrity Unit that prosecutes ethics offenses. DeLay might say otherwise, but I have always thought that Earle has operated with considerable self-restraint in an arena where it would have been easy to showboat or cross the line for political reasons (for example, by going after Tom Craddick, who has few friend in Travis County). As Texas politics gets more and more polarized along party lines, the office of Travis County DA will become more and more attractive to fierce partisans whose main interest will be in using it to advance their side’s political agenda. (I do not mean to imply that Rick Reed is such a person. The word I associate with him is “lawyer.”) This will be quite a race.