Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yene explained her role and the history of her career Sept. 24 at the Alvin Senior Center as part of the monthly Discussions with Dignitaries series presented by the Alvin-Manvel Area Chamber of Commerce.
As always, Yene had funny stories to tell and got some laughs, while also explaining the seriousness of her role in the county’s criminal justice system and how things have changed since she was first elected in 1999.
Yene isn’t confined to an office. She said one of the main questions people will ask is if she works in the field, to which the answer is a resounding yes. Yene’s office works with over 25 law enforcement agencies throughout the county and told the story of an officer in Florida complaining about four different agencies being scattered throughout the county.
“Angleton, Clute, Freeport, Lake Jackson, West Columbia, Brazoria, Jones Creek, Oyster Creek, the Sheriff’s Department, DPS, Parks & Wildlife, the constable’s office — four constable’s offices, Pearland, Liverpool, Manvel, Alvin … ,” Yene said, just to name a few.
Yene gave recognition to the county for continuing important criminal justice programs in Brazoria County after state grant money went away.
“They have funded some things that they don’t have to. When the grants are going away for drug court or DWI court, they fund the prosecutor — and domestic violence court and veterans’ court for rehab programs to try to keep people out of prison. They didn’t have to. They’ve done it to keep those programs going,” Yene said.
Yene said there are a lot of moving parts to ensuring that everyone at the county courthouse works together smoothly, and it’s important to settle internal disputes outside of the courtroom when possible.
“Years ago I was involved in an admissions lawsuit where we sued the state, Brazoria County sued the state over the Ozone Attainment — Non-Attainment Zone, and so that was a big controversy, and I remember going to Fort Bend County — they joined us in the lawsuit — and old County Judge Hebert, who’s now deceased, looked at me in the elevator and he greeted a JP, and he said, ‘Hey, how are you doing, Jeri?’ ‘Fine,’ and the guy got off the elevator and he said, ‘He just sued me last week!’ and so we work at trying to not waste your taxpayer funds and trying to work it out without suing one another and not functioning for your good, so we really work hard, and there’s a lot of moving parts to that regard,” Yene said.
Yene handles both criminal and civil cases — everything from justice of the peace court issues to capital murder. She also still tries cases herself.
“I call it the largest law firm in the county,” Yene said as she recited the list of how many of each different type of lawyer works at the district attorney’s office.
Unlike many other counties, where county attorneys and district attorneys operate in separate, distinct roles, Yene assumes both responsibilities. She said she believes that having the two roles combined is an advantage for Brazoria County because “you work together for the good of the county in civil and criminal matters, and it actually reduces your controversies.”