Corpus Christi DA Mark Gonzalez Speaks Out About SB 20 – Rolling Stone

Mark A Gonzalez


There are more than 250 district attorneys in the state of Texas, but only five of them agreed to sign a letter last year declaring their offices would not prosecute individuals who sought abortions. 

On Friday, the stakes go up for those bold enough to speak out against legislation they consider unjust: a new Texas law goes into effect that makes it easier to remove elected officials who decline to prosecute certain crimes, including abortion cases. Senate Bill 20 was designed to punish prosecutors whose offices “adopt or enforce a policy under which the prosecuting attorney refuses to prosecute a class or type of criminal offense.”

Mark Gonzalez is the district attorney for Nueces County, where Corpus Christi is located. A Democrat, he was elected in 2016, the same year a majority of the county’s residents sent Donald Trump to the White House. He is also one of the five Texas DAs who pledged they wouldn’t use their office’s resources to criminalize private medical decisions.

Gonzalez says his beliefs — that no one should be prosecuted for such a personal decision — haven’t changed since he signed the letter more than a year ago. “I still think that men in general should not get involved when it comes to women and their reproductive rights,” Gonzalez tells Rolling Stone

He bristles at the idea that the force of Texas’ draconian abortion laws fall disproportionately on disadvantaged communities. “I promise you: if there’s somebody that has a lot of means and their daughter gets pregnant, or they’re a victim of rape, or incest, they’re gonna take them to New Mexico,” where the procedure is legal, Gonzalez says. “The only people that are going to be left with no real options are those who are of a lower economic status, and those of color.”

Gonzalez grew up in the tiny Nueces County town of Agua Dulce. He is Catholic, and he was married in the church. Today, he has four daughters. “I never want to be able to tell them what they do with their bodies,” he says. “And I don’t think that any other man — or legislator — should have that say either.”

In any jurisdiction, prosecutors like Gonzalez have discretion about which cases they want to pursue, and how aggressively. Gonzalez says he’s never had the opportunity to use his prosecutorial discretion when it comes to an abortion case: “No case even remotely close to anything like this has been brought to our office.” (He is quick to add that his office also has no rules about how to treat such a case if it did: “We don’t have any actual policies in place that say: ‘We will not take this case or that case.’”) 

“The only policy that my office has always is: just do the right thing,” Gonzalez says. “And maybe that is not prosecuting a young person who was in a compromised position and making a choice that maybe she felt compelled to.”

This past legislative session, Texas state lawmakers decided that prosecutors have too much leeway to decide how they’ll enforce the increasingly punitive bills the GOP majority has muscled through.

“Unfortunately, certain Texas prosecutors have joined a trend of adopting internal policies refusing to prosecute particular laws,” Sen. Joan Huffman, author of SB 20, told the Texas Tribune in April. “These actions set a dangerous precedent and severely undermine the authority of the Legislature.”

To Gonzalez, the law is another example of Texas’ backslide. “We’re going backwards in every aspect in Texas: Women’s rights, reproductive rights, voting suppression, books in our libraries. What the hell is going on?” Gonzalez asks. “It’s gonna get worse and worse when you have a small amount of people in Austin deciding what everybody else does.”

Even before SB 20 went into effect, Gonzalez was the target of conservative activists seeking his ouster. A former defense attorney, he attracted attention to his office by advocating for the use of citations, rather than arrests for low-level offenses. He caught notice for other differences from his predecessors too: his tattoos (including one that reads “Not Guilty” across his chest), and his membership in the Calaveras, a motorcycle club the state recognizes as a gang.

In January, a conservative group filed a petition to remove Gonzalez from his post for “incompetency.” They accused the DA of, among other things, refusing to prosecute cases involving abortion or gender-affirming care. The group was later forced to retract those particular claims since no cases have been brought. A trial that will determine whether Gonzalez will remain in office is set to begin this month, one that is seen as part of a larger movement to remove progressive prosecutors across the country.

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If Gonzalez’s opponents fail in that effort, SB 20 will arm them with another, easier tool to seek his removal before his term is up in December 2024.

Gonzalez says he’s prepared either way. “I chose this job because I want to impact my community and protect the individuals who never had that opportunity. And whatever fight they bring to my door, I’m always ready.”



Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/texas-da-mark-gonzalez-sb-20-1234815640/

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