DMN: We recommend Faith Johnson for Dallas County district attorney

October 5, 2018

Dallas Morning News Editorial

When Gov. Greg Abbott named former criminal district court judge Faith Johnson to be Dallas County district attorney in December 2016, midway through Susan Hawk’s troubled tenure, some assumed she’d merely be a placeholder until better-known candidates surfaced to compete in 2018.

And certainly, in former criminal district judge John Creuzot, Democrats have nominated a serious, credentialed and reform-minded candidate with a large and positive reputation in Dallas County.

But in the 21 months since Johnson, 67, began serving as district attorney, the Republican has done something not everyone expected: She’s done an excellent job.

For that reason, we strongly recommend voters elect her in November over Creuzot, 61, who has failed to make an adequate case that his success as a judge has prepared him to do a better job than Johnson.

Judges and prosecutors have very different jobs, of course, but in the case of the district attorney, the differences go much further. District attorneys lead large staffs that, in big counties like ours, include hundreds of prosecutors and others. We believe Johnson has demonstrated the managerial touch the job requires and has shown exceptional public leadership.

Johnson has restored order to an office that was in disarray after the combative final months of Democrat Craig Watkins’ tenure and Hawk’s disastrous two years. In doing so, Johnson displayed a listen-first style of leadership that included, for instance, a series of small-group lunches with all of her prosecutors in the first six months of her tenure — lunches designed to solicit ideas, ambitions and problems from the front lines.

She also has expanded the conviction integrity unit founded by Watkins in 2007, and thanks to a new federal grant will soon expand it again with another prosecutor, investigator and support staff.

Johnson also has shown strong public leadership, as when she successfully prosecuted former Balch Springs police Officer Roy Oliver on murder charges and secured a 15-year prison sentence. Creuzot applauds the verdict but believes Johnson missed an opportunity for a longer sentence. He says Johnson made a crucial mistake in asking for 60 years instead of life.

That kind of after-the-fact second-guessing about how a jury would have reacted makes a slender stave upon which to lean such a heavy complaint. Johnson rightly notes that the conviction itself is a historic outcome for Dallas County.

Johnson also has another police shooting case on her plate. And so far, she has handled the Botham Jean case about right. She has promised a tough but fair pursuit of justice and has earned the community’s trust.

We also prefer Johnson’s approach to marijuana cases, compared to Creuzot’s promise to dismiss all cases involving small amounts of marijuana. Her approach to dismiss cases after defendants show they’ve been clean for eight weeks and pass a basic drug-awareness course is a more prudent exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

For all of these reasons, Johnson has earned our recommendation.