The Mineral Wells Index recently asked candidates running in the five contested county races to provide information and answer – within 300 words or less – questions in order to help voters decide who to support and vote for. The primary elections are March 3, and early voting begins February 18. Only Republicans are running local races. There are no Democratic candidates seeking a county office.

Here are responses from Palo Pinto County District Attorney Kriste Burnett:

Name: Kriste Burnett

Age: 53

Employment (current and relevant past employment): District Attorney, 29th Judicial District, former Assistant District Attorney 29th Judicial District, former Assistant District Attorney for Johnson and Somervell Counties, former Assistant District Attorney for the 83rd and 112th Judicial Districts, former elected County Attorney for Pecos County.

Education/training/certifications: J.D.-Texas Tech School of Law 1992; BA in English (magna cum laude) 1989

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QUESTION 1: Why do you want to be district attorney for Palo Pinto County? What qualifications and experience make you the best choice to handle and prosecute felony cases in Palo Pinto County?  

I want to continue being your District Attorney for Palo Pinto County because I love this county and I want to continue to be part of making this a safer place to live and work. I believe my 28 years as an attorney practicing almost exclusively in criminal law (22 of those years serving as a prosecutor), including my extensive trial experience, make me the best choice for this position.

I have tried all levels of criminal offense, from class C misdemeanors to capital murder.  Since taking office three years ago, I have tried 19 felony charges to juries in this county and have obtained guilty verdicts on all of them.

Throughout my career I have made it a priority to be as educated as I possibly can regarding the investigation and prosecution of crimes. I try to always attend more than the mandatory minimum of 15 hours of continuing education each year, and strive to read court opinions that are issued each week regarding criminal law. I am well respected by my peers, reflected by such honors as being elected the Region 7 director  to the Board of Directors of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association for the years 2017 and 2018; being invited by sheriffs across the state to be the prosecuting attorney member of the Cold Case Team of the Sheriff’s Association of Texas since 2009; and by being asked to serve as a member of the Children’s Justice Act Task Force for Texas for a total of five two year terms-holding various leadership positions including grants committee chair, vice-chair and currently serving as chair-elect.

My service in these professional organizations help me stay at the forefront of emerging developments and trends in criminal law and the investigation of crimes.

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QUESTION 2: What do you consider to be the most important aspect(s) of being district attorney? What qualities make for a district attorney the people can have faith and trust in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of this office?

I believe that among the most important aspects of being district attorney are the ability to evaluate cases based upon both knowledge of the law and knowledge of how juries in your jurisdiction view different types of cases so that you can make effective disposition of cases, and to always be aware that you serve all of the citizens of the county.

Our duty as prosecutors is to seek justice. This means that you oftentimes may have to make hard decisions to best serve the citizens of your community. It takes a person of integrity and strength of character to make these types of decisions, and I know I am that person in this race. I also believe a district attorney should make an investment of their personal time into the community they serve. I have done that in various ways. I moved to Mineral Wells in 2009, and became a member of Leadership Mineral Wells Class 16 in February 2010. I also joined the Zonta Club of Mineral Wells that year and performed many service activities through the club. I am a member of Envision Mineral Wells and serve on the Education and Workforce Development committee helping to develop a skilled workforce to carry Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County into the future.

I am a woman of faith and have attended Indian Creek Baptist Church. My faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior provides the strength I need to help me through some of the difficult cases we deal with in our office.  

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QUESTION 3: For the incumbent, what changes have been made while in office that have led to improvements and better efficiencies and improved case disposition rates? Some cases take two or more years to resolve, so have you been able to reduce the backlog of caseloads to make for more timely dispositions, and if so how were you able to do that? What are the biggest challenges and obstacles in dealing with caseloads in this county? For the challenger, what changes/improvements would you propose making if elected to improve efficiencies and increase case dispositions?

I have worked with the District Judge to develop a scheduling order for all felony cases filed in to the district court. One of the first things I noticed upon taking office was that many of the indicted cases had not been to court since their arraignment date. I have learned over 28 years of practicing criminal law is that if you don’t bring the defendants into the courtroom on a regular basis, they will never be ready to proceed on their case(s).  Implementing a scheduling order that sets dates for pretrial hearings and plea negotiation deadlines helps keep everyone on track and keeps the caseload moving more efficiently.

I did inherit a large backlog of not only indicted cases, but also of unindicted cases on which no action had been taken or decision made on whether or not to proceed with charges. My staff and I spent many hours developing an intake system within our office to help cases be processed more efficiently.

Some of the biggest obstacles in moving cases more quickly through the system revolve around a lack of personnel and resources. My staff positions are an assistant district attorney, an investigator and two support staff. One of my support staff is also our victim’s assistance coordinator. Over the three years, our office has received 1,722 new cases. We could use at least one more person to help process these cases more quickly.

The other complicating factors include a district court of general jurisdiction which limits the number of days per month available to be dedicated to criminal cases and a limited number of defense attorneys available to take court appointments. However all of us in the system work diligently to move the cases as quickly as possible while protecting defendants’ rights and ensuring justice is served.

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QUESTION 4: Most people would agree drug use and trafficking, especially methamphetamine, is the biggest issue in not just our county and communities but many others across the state and nation. What is the best way to treat those charged and convicted of these crimes to try and reduce their use and dependence on them and reduce its impacts on crime and those these crimes victimize?

I have worked closely with our City-County Narcotics Unit and Texas DPS Criminal Investigations Division to target those who distribute methamphetamine in Palo Pinto County. We have indicted 33 individuals for charges including Delivery of a Controlled Substance and Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity due to the efforts of these hard working narcotics investigators.

Due to the overwhelming amount of input I received while first running for office in 2016 requesting that I take a hard stance on those spreading the poison of methamphetamine and other drugs in our community, I instituted a policy of only offering these offenders prison time as a plea bargain. Several of these defendants chose to take their chances with a jury. All of those trials resulted in lengthy prison sentences, reinforcing for my office that our community expectations are still high on how such offenders should be sentenced.

When it comes to the multitude of offenders with only small user amounts of drugs in their possession, and those who have committed nonviolent offenses such as theft to support their addiction, we evaluate those cases individually. If the offender has little or no criminal history we work with probation to try to rehabilitate these offenders through progressive sanctions such as outpatient or inpatient substance abuse treatment programs.  However, with repeat offenders I have tried to adhere to the voter mandate when I was elected that we put a stop to the revolving door of crime in our community.

I use the tools the Legislature has given us in the Penal Code to enhance the punishment ranges of those who repeatedly victimize the good citizens of our county to support their drug habits.

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