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Amid criticism, Travis County DA resigns from state sexual assault task force

Tuesday, July 30, 2019 by Nadia Hamdan

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore resigned from the state’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force on Friday. Her appointment was cut short after critics, including survivors suing over Moore’s record of handling sexual assaults, expressed concern.

The task force was created this past legislative session to help promote best practices in rape investigations and prosecutions.

Moore sent her resignation letter to Jarvis Parsons, the president of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, who originally appointed her to the position late last month. In the letter, Moore points to what she calls her “extensive work” in improving adult sexual assault prosecutions, but goes on to acknowledge her appointment has become a distraction.

“I genuinely care about this endeavor,” she wrote. “I also recognize that my anticipated participation has caused too much attention to be paid to my appointment and not enough attention to the work that needs to get done. I cannot let my presence undermine the effort.”

When news of Moore’s appointment became public last Monday, some survivors and advocates criticized the decision to add her to the task force. The DA is currently embroiled in a class-action lawsuit alleging her office mishandled the sexual assault cases of female victims because of gender discrimination. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that survivors need to trust in the work of the task force and “DA Moore simply does not have the trust of our clients or other survivors in Travis County.”

The resignation also came hours after reporters at Newsy provided state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) with a decades-old letter Moore had written to her then-boss, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. In it, Moore said she did not want to work in the Special Crimes Unit, which handles child abuse, family violence and sexual assault cases, and would rather be transferred back into trial courts, which prosecutes most other felonies.

Among the complaints in Moore’s letter was that she had to talk to “a black rape victim because she was unhappy about the way her case was being investigated.” Moore went on to tell Earle that the types of cases she was handling were “so far outside my range of knowledge and interest that I feel hopelessly inadequate.”

KUT has reached out to Moore for comment on the letter and has not heard back. But in a statement to Newsy, Moore said she was initially upset about being transferred out of trial courts but that she eventually “got over it.”

Rep. Howard, the lead sponsor of the bill that created the task force, had already been critical of the decision to appoint Moore. In a social media post on Monday, Howard said the choice was “an unfortunate distraction” that “creates problems for survivors.”

Parsons told KUT last Tuesday that he picked Moore to represent the District and County Attorneys Association because she had expressed interest before anyone else and she had experience working with prosecutors in larger counties across the state to learn how to best respond to sexual assaults.

In response to Moore’s resignation, Parsons told the Austin American-Statesman that “he appreciated her willingness to try to put politics aside for the success of the commission.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Martin do Nascimento for KUT.

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