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Travis County DA Appointed To Sexual Assault Task Force Despite Class-Action Lawsuit

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore
Gabriel C. Pérez
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore speaks to the press during a news conference last year. Moore has been appointed to a new Sexual Assault Survivors' Task Force.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore has been appointed to the Sexual Assault Survivors' Task Force inside the governor's office, despite being sued over her office's alleged mishandling of rape cases

Texas lawmakers created the task force this past legislative session to come up with policy recommendations to help prevent, investigate and prosecute sexual assaults. The legislation requires that the group be made up of agency leaders from across the state, which includes the president of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. 

Jarvis Parsons, who currently holds the title, told Gov. Greg Abbott he would designate Moore as the representative instead. In a letter sent to the governor last month, Parsons said Moore is "anxious to serve" and "will be a very productive member of the body." 

Parsons told KUT he chose Moore because she was the first person to call him and ask to be on the committee when the bill was signed. He also said she's currently working with prosecutors in Harris, Dallas, Collin and Tarrant counties to learn how to more effectively prosecute sexual assault cases. 

In a statement to KUT, Moore said she was excited to be a part of the task force.

“I can make a major contribution in identifying both obstacles we face in prosecuting these cases and resources we need to better serve the victims of sexual assault," she said.

Although state Rep. Donna Howard of Austin, the lead sponsor of the task force, posted on social media that it's her understanding nothing official is in place yet, critics of the district attorney are upset. Moore is one of the defendants in a class-action lawsuit filed by eight sexual assault victims who allege the city and county inadequately handled their cases because of gender discrimination. 

"To say that our clients and other survivors who have contacted us are concerned by the appointment of DA Moore to the new Sexual Assault Survivors Task Force would be an understatement," Jennifer Ecklund, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement to KUT. "Survivors need to be able to trust and believe in the work of the SASTF, and DA Moore simply does not have the trust of our clients or other survivors in Travis County."

In a Facebook post, plaintiff Julie Ann Nitsch questioned how the task force planned to do its work if it's "made up of defendants from a lawsuit for mishandling sexual assault." 

In a response to Nitsch's post, Howard called Parson's decision "an unfortunate distraction" that "creates problems for survivors." Howard has endorsed Moore in her 2020 reelection campaign.  

This post has been updated with a statement from the district attorney.

Nadia Hamdan is a local news anchor and host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT.
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