New District Attorney begins term

“I am very humbled. I am very honored and looking forward to the new year,” said newly-elected 81st Judicial District Attorney Audrey Louis. “We are ready to hit the ground running Jan. 3,” said Louis, just prior to starting her term in office.

Louis has made history as both the first female and first Republican to hold the position for the 81st Judicial District, which serves Atascosa, Wilson, Karnes, LaSalle and Frio Counties. She defeated incumbent District Attorney Rene Peña last November, who had been the District Attorney for 12 years. 

On Sunday, Jan. 1, she and other Wilson County officials were sworn in before a large audience at the Wilson County Courthouse in Floresville.

 

Audrey’s beginnings

Audrey Louis is a 1992 graduate of Floresville High School, where she was active in tennis, basketball and volleyball.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin, graduating with honors. She attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where she received her Juris Doctorate degree, also with honors. 

Louis had interned at the District Attorney’s office in Lubbock and then worked there from 2000-03. Her husband Matt was accepted into Physician Assistant School in San Antonio, which gave them the chance to move back to San Antonio. This year, the couple will celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. They have two children, Grant, age 14 and Ty, 11. 

In 2003, she began working at the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. She served as a prosecutor in the White Collar Crime Division, under then District Attorney Susan Reed. The division handled white collar crime cases and financial crimes such as embezzlement, theft, security fraud, prosecution of public officials and law enforcement officers and insurance fraud. They also handled computer crime cases such as possession of child pornography and criminal solicitation of a minor, in which someone poses undercover as an under-aged female. 

Then she left there for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2005, where she was hired as a Special Assistant United States Attorney.

In 2008, Louis began working as the Assistant District Attorney for the 81st Judicial District, primarily covering Wilson County. However, she would go to all five counties to assist in various trials. She served as Assistant District Attorney for seven years, until the day that she was fired by Rene Peña. This was the same day she filed for office in Austin.

 

Goals, challenges as District Attorney

“The good thing is, a lot of the things that I had laid out as campaign promises and what I envisioned for the office has already taken place. We’ve got our full team intact, starting Jan. 3, which I am really excited about. We have hired four prosecutors, all from various locations. Two lawyers are from Corpus Christi, one is from Lufkin and one is from Amarillo,” said Louis.

 “I have also put in place a full-time prosecutor that will handle nothing but child sexual abuse cases, to make those cases more of a priority and try to lessen the time it takes between the time the child outcries, the case gets indicted, and the time we are looking at a trial because there is no closure there. So we want to streamline those cases and we are having one person handle that.”

Louis also hired a full-time victim advocate position that did not exist before. In the past, the victim advocate also handled the budget and other matters. 

“We have a full-time victim advocate for all five counties. If the need arises, we may even end up with a second,” said Louis.

She shared how victims do not ask to be brought into the criminal justice system. When they are, they need someone who is able to walk them through it and provide answers to their questions. 

“So they need to feel like they are represented and that they can be heard. It was hard as a prosecutor if I was in court all day and I get out of court at 4:30 and I come back and have 17 cases that are serious crimes. I’ve got to get ready for court the next day and I don’t necessarily have time to call all these victims and spend 30 minutes on the phone with each of them. The full-time advocates can help them with the process and fully open that line of communication where they feel like they are being served and can ease some of the stresses of being a victim.”

Louis also addressed what she considers the additional challenges locally. 

“So for Atascosa County in particular, my understanding is that there are close to 650 cases pending grand jury indictment. There is a big backlog and I am told nearly 400 of those cases are felony drugs cases,” Louis said. 

“The goal will be all hands on deck to ensure we go through that backlog as quickly and efficiently as possible, by all lawyers. So that will be our initial biggest challenge.” 

Another one of her goals is to not waste and/or overspend taxpayer’s money. 

She explained, “We have already cut the budget by over $47,000 by eliminating one of the investigator positions.”

 

Pending murder cases

“The other issue for Atascosa County are the six murder cases pending and at least half of those are over three years old.”

Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward confirmed those cases as: Shawn Puente (capital), John Finch, Samantha Hurt Jones, Guy Flores, Joe Anthony Perez (capital) and Jose Juarez (capital). This is not counting Puente’s co-defendant being held in Wilson County.

“The next thing is, we’ve got those people in custody that are going to be tried as quickly as possible to try and get justice and peace for those victims’ families. My goal is going to be to provide more effective and timely prosecution.”

She explained it is very frustrating for law enforcement when they arrest people who are not being held accountable in court. There need to be consequences. 

“We are going to try to be a little more aggressive and timely in prosecuting those cases because it shouldn’t be that law enforcement is arresting the same person two or three times, and they are laughing at them saying, ‘I’ve never been indicted the first time, so nothing is going to happen to me this time.’”

 Along with the aforementioned, she will ensure the county is a safer place, “by making sure our job as a district attorney is accomplished, which is allowing law enforcement to go out and investigate and make the arrests, and making sure those arrests are not for nothing, and making sure they are aggressively prosecuted in the courtroom.” 

Louis understands that there will be times when she will make decisions that will not please everyone or make her the most popular person. 

“They may not be decisions that I enjoy making, but I will always do the right thing. If there is evidence to support a crime, we will prosecute it.”

 

Volunteer work and advocacy 

CASA of South Texas

Louis serves on the board for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of South Texas, with the main office here in Pleasanton.

“I was in charge of spearheading that for Wilson and Karnes County, because while CASA has been here and in Frio and La Salle Counties for some time, we did not have it over in Wilson and Karnes County. They now have a total of 13 volunteers between those two counties to help foster children. I am very excited about the growth and that has been about a year in place.”

Crisis Center

Louis recently became a board member for the Atascosa Family Crisis Center, which provides support for victims of dating violence, family violence, sexual assault and stalking for women, men and their families.

“Our next goal is to really move it forward to becoming a shelter. It is really needed because right now the closest shelters are over in Guadalupe County, in Seguin, or in San Antonio. So I’m working to continue to raise funds so that we can get that accomplished.”

Children’s Alliance of South Texas (CAST)

“October of 2013 is when we officially opened the doors for the Children’s Alliance of South Texas- a Child Advocacy Center. We have seen over 900 alleged physically and sexually abused kids that have been interviewed.” 

“That is always my heart and soul because in my mind, children are so innocent and there is nothing that they could do to ever deserve being put through what these kids are put through. So with the advocacy center, if I never do anything else in my life, I know that I have helped some children. They continue to get free therapy as needed. It provides therapy for them and it is therapy for their family members to help them be able to cope. Organizing that and getting that started for the district will always feel like my greatest accomplishment,” said Louis. 

Masquerade Ball

Louis advised that tickets are available for purchase, for the Children’s Alliance of South Texas Masquerade Ball. The event is set for Feb. 18 in Floresville and this year’s theme is “A Black and White Affair.” For tickets, or to donate an auction item, call 830-393-6290. You can also visit the website at: www.castcac.org.

The rest of her time involves keeping up with her children. 

Reporting child abuse

As someone dedicated to protecting sexually and physically abused children, Louis advises those who suspect child neglect/abuse to contact the law enforcement agency where the suspected conduct is taking place.

“Sometimes CPS is so overwhelmed with cases that their response may not be as quick and so if you have any type of evidence or witness anything that causes concern, it is law enforcement that probably has the capability to respond quicker. A lot of people will call CAST, however they are not an investigating agency. They are there to interview the child and that kind of thing on behalf of law enforcement and CPS.”

She also shared, “While I am honored to serve as District Attorney and I am so thrilled and looking forward to it, I want to serve as much as I can and for the same exact reason- I know that I can help people. That is the reason I do what I do and I love doing what I do. I am definitely happy that the advocacy center is something we were able to get accomplished, through the help and support of so many other people, including the Pleasanton Express, by helping get the word out there.”

 

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