After a highly competitive campaign and years of hard work and discipline, William Thompson took office as the newly elected District Attorney for Navarro on January 1.
The Marine Corp veteran is tasked with keeping track of the largest backlog in Navarro County’s history, with literally thousands of cases pending.
His journey so far has taken him across the state, nation and world, and he intends to apply his experiences and lessons from his surroundings to his new position.
The Corsicana Daily Sun recently met with Thompson to learn more about his history, qualifications and vision for the future.
What is your background
My father was an army officer, so I grew up all over the world. The most interesting of these was Bangkok, Thailand.
I went to the University of Texas on a ROTC scholarship from the Marine Corp. where I met my wife Mary, who is also a Marine. I graduated as a lieutenant and served nine years as an officer.
My time in the Marines taught me how to lead and motivate people to do things that are not always easy. My time in business taught me how to do things more efficiently than most governments do.
We spent eight years in the San Marcos area and I worked in the investment business. My wife’s job brought us to the Dallas / Fort Worth area and Edward Jones found me an office there.
How did you get into the law?
One of my college roommates and a couple of friends were studying law, and I always said I would take that opportunity. My second assignment with Marine Corp was in Okinawa, Japan, so I put it on hold. One day after we moved to DFW, I heard a radio ad saying Texas Wesleyan University was offering nightly law classes, so I signed up. During my law degree, I worked full-time in an office of Edward Jones for two and a half years.
How did you get to Corsicana?
Former District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson hired me as Assistant District Attorney the day I got my bar exam results back. I did all of the work in the prosecutor’s office including juvenile, misdemeanor, civil and criminal offenses.
When Lowell passed away unexpectedly in 2018, I became the interim prosecutor’s first assistant. I was not eligible to be appointed as I was still commuting from Waco to my wife’s work.
How has working with Lowell shaped your philosophy?
First I learned how to try cases. Under him I have tried over 100 cases before juries. Lowell’s strength was that people get along in a system that is inherently controversial. He was honestly a lot better at it than me. Now I come from a different perspective. He also taught me how to build good relationships with law enforcement agencies that have since paid off. I have a real feel for what drives crime in Navarro County. Especially repeat offenders.
What’s Driving Crime in Navarro County?
Law enforcement can tell you that 80 to 90% of our crime is caused by drugs. Not just property crimes, but we spend a tremendous amount of time and resources on child protection cases, almost all of which are drug-driven.
What is the solution?
I spoke with the district judge and commissioners about establishing a separate drug court protocol that would include intensive surveillance, drug counseling, and frequent drug testing to rid addicts who frequently commit property crimes to aid their habits from drugs by means other than send them to jail.
The other side of that coin is protecting people who trade drugs for a profit. These are the people who increase the crime rate, and I have no sympathy for anyone who would benefit from selling methamphetamine to an addict.
If a repeat offender is driven by addiction, they may be a good candidate for a drug court. However, repeatedly sending violent offenders through the process ceases to be compassionate and becomes naive.
What is the ultimate goal?
The ultimate goal is to stop people from committing another crime. So the question is how far do we have to go to give ourselves reasonable assurance that a person will not return to the criminal justice system. If the cause is drug addiction, they will keep coming back until we solve the problem. We have limited tools, but we need to apply these tools in an intense way. We have no tools to rehabilitate people from selling drugs other than lock them up for as long as possible.
How are you going to clear the backlog of cases?
We have limited resources, so we cannot go to court in every case. My predecessor significantly expanded the use of redirects before the process. This is basically an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant that if they complete certain programs or tasks and if they have no problems for six to twelve months, we will dismiss the case. It targets low-level defense lawyers. It left the case with no record and moved many cases quickly.
We need to be very selective in those cases where rigorous law enforcement is required and recognize that they consume a lot of resources. However, we are responsible to the citizens for prosecuting the drug dealers and habitual offenders. The other priority is the outrageous victim crimes like murders or child abuse. It is not so much about the history of the accused as it is about the nature of the crime. We must do everything we can to deal with these cases.
What is the expectation for the future?
Previously, each of the two criminal courts held about one trial per month. Once we’re beyond COVID, we’ll talk about whether we can do more than that to catch up. Options such as involving judges cost money. I’m not assuming we’ll see any jury marks until the second quarter of this year due to COVID restrictions.
I’m very happy to have hired a few attorneys who have each practiced law in Texas for over 30 years. All lawyers have at least two years of experience. All of my paralegals are certified or have worked in a private practice or in the courthouse.
What’s your first job?
Keep the new attorneys informed of the main pending cases expected to be brought to justice. Fortunately, we look like we have a few months to spare, but crimes keep happening.
I also want to rebuild relationships between my office and our local law enforcement agencies.