Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
In the Bexar County Courthouse on Tuesday, Joe Gonzales lifted his right hand and was sworn in by Judge Ron Rangel of the 379th Criminal District Court as Bexar County's new criminal district attorney.
Gonzales thanked his family, friends, and supporters for the journey, especially his wife, Yvonne.
“She believed in my dream so much she was willing to interrupt her career and prematurely retire ... and for this I will always be indebted to you,” he said.
Gonzales said he is giving himself a six-month timeline to start working on issues he highlighted in his campaign: expanding cite-and-release policies, reforming the bail bond system, increasing enrollment in diversionary programs, and strengthening the district attorney office’s family violence unit.
"Hopefully we can at least get started with implementing them,” he said.
Gonzales defeated incumbent Nico LaHood, who was in his first term as district attorney, in the March Democratic primary and went on to defeat Republican Tylden Shaeffer in November by nearly 17 points.
LaHood’s time in office was marked with controversies, including an appearance in an anti-vaccination documentary and a plea bargain agreement with a serial DWI offender. In 2017, a state judge testified that LaHood threatened to destroy the law practice of Gonzales after the two clashed in the judge's chambers. The incident prompted Gonzales to challenge LaHood in the primary.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony, praised Gonzales for his door-knocking and block-walking campaign, adding that Gonzales' defeat of an incumbent was a reminder to all public officials that they only get a “short-term lease on the job.”
“Accountability in our community is about holding those who serve in those jobs accountable, and that’s what happened here, with some dissatisfaction the community had and with the very spirited and courageous campaign that Joe ran,” he said.
Gonzales’ integrity, perseverance, and varied work background would help him in his new role, Doggett said.
“In a district attorney, it’s not just the legal experience or someone who graduated from St. Mary’s with honors, but it’s the values learned growing up here on the West Side, in a family with a single mom,” Doggett said. “These are the kind of values that when he’s evaluating these cases and knowing that he shared some of the challenges of some of the people coming in front of him — it’s good experience to have.”
Gonzales said his first priority would be to expand the county’s cite-and-release policy that LaHood piloted in January 2018. The policy allowed law enforcement officers to ticket people for certain Class B misdemeanors, including possession of marijuana under four ounces, instead of arresting them. Gonzales, who has been working with San Antonio Police Department on implementing a policy, said that cite and release keeps first-time offenders out of jail.
“I’m feeling very elated, very excited to get started, roll up our sleeves, and get busy,” he said. “We’ve already talked to various members of law enforcement – for example [San Antonio Police] Chief [William] McManus and [Bexar County] Sheriff [Javier] Salazar – and we’re putting the finishing touches on [the program], and hopefully we’ll get off the ground with it in the next 60 to 90 days.”