Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore has resigned before starting any work on a statewide task force aimed at developing best practices for sexual assault prosecutions, citing backlash from critics who say her office has done a poor job of bringing attackers to justice.
Moore resigned Friday in a letter to Texas District & County Attorneys Association President Jarvis Parsons, who had recently appointed her to the board that state lawmakers had created through the bipartisan House Bill 1590.
After detailing the successes she said she’s had in prosecuting sexual assault cases, Moore acknowledged in the letter that her appointment — which the American-Statesman reported on Monday — will distract from the task force’s objective.
“I genuinely care about this endeavor,” Moore 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.”
Moore declined to comment further to the Statesman on Friday.
The resignation came four days after one of Moore’s opponents in next year’s Democratic primary, Erin Martinson, blasted the appointment in a strongly worded statement.
“By failing in her duty to adequately prosecute sexual assaults, Moore has created a system that condones rape and fails in its duty to protect victims and the community,” Martinson wrote. “We all deserve to have someone appointed to the SASTF (Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force) who is legitimately committed to the process and who values all voices, even those who are critical of her office.”
Jose Garza, another candidate who is opposing Moore in the primary, said he is glad she stepped down.
“I thought her accepting the position was really an insult to survivors of sexual assault who feel like they have been ignored in Travis County for far too long,” he said. “I think her decision to step down reflects that she has lost the trust of the community here in Travis County. Because of that, I think it’s the right and obvious choice, but I think it’s not enough.”
Moore, who is running for a second four-year term, is a defendant in a federal class-action lawsuit by eight women who accused the city of Austin and Travis County of failing to properly investigate sexual assault complaints. Former District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg also is a defendant.
Moore has said her office has an ethical obligation to refrain from going forward with any case that prosecutors do not believe can be proved in court beyond a reasonable doubt.
Other defendants in the lawsuit are Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and his predecessor, Art Acevedo.
The lawsuit, which is awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on a defendant’s motion to dismiss, alleges that Moore’s office has declined to recommend sexual assault cases for prosecution even when evidence points to a crime.
The lawyer for the women behind the lawsuit, Jennifer Ecklund, condemned Moore’s appointment to the task force earlier this week.
“I think the victims we represent are understandably concerned that the person appointed should be someone who cares for and intends to be a voice for victims and holding perpetrators accountable,” Ecklund said. “Right now, I don’t think women in Travis County hold that view about Ms. Moore.”
The task force was designed to pull in representatives from state agencies that deal with sexual assault investigations, including the Texas attorney general’s office and the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Parsons, the district attorney in Brazos County, said he picked Moore to represent the District & County Attorneys Association on the task force because she coordinated a roundtable for elected prosecutors in the state to discuss best practices for getting convictions in sexual assault cases.
“I appreciated her willingness to try to put politics aside for the success of the commission,” Parsons said Friday. “It seems for some people she was a distraction. When she called and said she wanted to take her name out of it, I found it admirable that she would do that in order for the commission to go forward.”