Hobbs sets sights on third term
By Anthony Flores
Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs, the Republican incumbent, is facing off against Democrat and veteran attorney Stan Springerley.
Hobbs has been a citizen of Williamson County his entire life, attending school in Hutto. The University of Texas graduate began his career in the County Attorney’s office in 2001. He says a common mistake many citizens make is confusing the County Attorney’s office with the District Attorney’s office.
“When I talk to citizens, police academies or different groups nobody knows what the office does, and that’s okay because Texas is fiercely independent and has over 250 counties,” said Hobbs. “There are over 250 versions of what the office can be. That’s where you have to start when you talk to folks. A lot of people don’t know what we do. As we’ve grown, there are lots of different things that we do.”
The County Attorney’s office handles a wide range of things, including both adult misdemeanors, juvenile offenses, and handing out protection orders and advising elected officials when asked for a legal opinion. For Hobbs, one of the significant focuses since his arrival in 2001 has been mental health and how to handle people suffering from mental health issues.
“Years ago, when I started in the office, we sent our mental health cases down to Travis County,” Hobbs said. “A few years back, Williamson County got two mental health hospitals in our jurisdiction. When we got the hospitals, we took over and started handling our cases in the house, so my office does that. Mid-year when the hospitals opened up, we had eight commitments that year, now we’re pushing 600.”
As the county has grown, Hobbs believes the most significant aspect of handling the growth is keeping a certain quality of service.
“The challenge is not necessarily the growth but the quality you want to keep as you grow. I started in the office just as a rank and file prosecutor in 2001. Between 2000 and 2010, this county has gone through almost 67 percent growth,” he said. “In one decade, we became something completely different than we had been before that. It’s not just turning out a product, it’s turning out a quality product. If you have a complaint or you’re a victim, we want to make sure you get the same service today that you would get when we were a county at half the size.”
One of the most important focuses for Hobbs is the use of technology to create a more streamlined and efficient office that doesn’t impact the taxpayers heavily.
“The use of technology is what has kept our office’s overall tax burden at about one percent. Now we’re automating our lobby. If I can use technology to a successful extent without adding more personnel, that’s great,” he said.
Part of Hobbs’ streamlining includes having staff work remotely. With this arrangement in place, the office adjusted well when the COVID pandemic hit.
“My prosecutors were ready to work remotely. I was already working with that and had several of my divisions working remotely just as a business practice already,” said Hobbs. “So, when COVID hit, we were already equipped, and we could do it. The reason for that is as we grow, my footprint gets smaller and smaller. I have prosecutors that live all over the Central Texas area, and working remotely, is part of work-life balance.”
The idea to implement working remotely came after Hobbs toured the Dell complex in Round Rock and saw what they were doing.
“Remote working came to me after I took a tour with the County Judge of the Dell complex, and they talked about how they were doing it and how they accomplished it,” said Hobbs. “For the government, it’s always a scary thing. The government usually runs about a decade behind the private industry.”
During his tenure, Hobbs has helped establish the DWI drug court. The drug court focuses on combining “local criminal justice resources, case management, and substance abuse treatment to rehabilitate targeted repeat DWI and misdemeanor drug possession offenders in lieu of incarceration.”
“I was on the ground floor when the DWI drug court started. Addiction is an illness, and we have been a model for handing it,” said Hobbs. “We’ve had other counties come to observe our drug court as they start theirs. It’s well-settled now, but back when we tried to start it, this was not well accepted in the county. We can still be tough, but we can be fair. Watching those graduation ceremonies and seeing them start their help groups and their support groups, it’s great.”
Along with the drug court, Hobbs also helped establish the Veteran’s Treatment court. The goal of the veteran’s court is, “to promote public safety and assist veterans or current members of the U.S. armed forces through a collaborative, coordinated system of Court supervised treatment that ensures accountability while empowering veterans to become integral and productive members of our community.”
“Veteran’s court, I helped get that started here. We have a very large veteran population in our county,” said Hobbs. “Seeing what they’ve gone through for our country and what they suffer through now, traumatic brain injury and PTSD. A lot of them aren’t willing to ask for help, and they don’t realize they might need help until something puts them in contact with the criminal justice system.”
The focus for Hobbs’ office in the future is continuing to work on mental health issues, dealing with domestic violence and juvenile offenders.
“As we come out of this COVID problem, my focus is going to be on our mental health caseload and our domestic violence offenders, and our juvenile offenders. We haven’t had our normal lives, and with people cooped up, we’ve seen those numbers start to increase. I’m worried that there are people in harm’s way. That’s the focus for the immediate future.”
Hobbs’ opponent claims that he has never faced opposition when running. As a rebuttal, Hobbs pointed out that in his first term, he faced opponents at the primary level. He ran unopposed for his second term.
“What my opponent fails to realize is I’m running for my third term. In my first term, there were three people in the primary race,” said Hobbs. “It’s not that I haven’t been in battle in the trenches. Yes, on my second term I didn’t have an opponent on either side of the fence, so yes, it’s different from this one. One of my first two opponents definitely threw a lot of fireballs at me, and even untested at that point, I won without a runoff. With a shorter period, this is more of a sprint than a marathon.”
Springerly also tied Hobbs to County Sheriff Robert Chody. The incumbent said that he is bound by his oath to give legal opinion to any elected official if they ask for it.
“His whole background has to do with the commissioners court, so he wants all the focus to be on that. The interaction I have with them is maybe one percent of what the office does, and it’s the one percent he wants to talk about,” said Hobbs. “In a lot of counties, the county attorney does give legal advice to the commissioners court, but the commissioners court decided to have their counsel to represent them. As far as representing the sheriff, if any elected official in the county who doesn’t have representation asks me for a legal opinion then I am obligated under my oath of office to give that.”