The longest-serving district attorney in Ector County history will leave office Jan. 1 to open a private practice.
Never opposed for re-election since he was appointed in 2006 and bested a half-dozen competitors for the Republican nomination that year, Robert Newton “Bobby” Bland IV enjoyed his work but said he felt it was time for a change.
County Attorney Dusty Gallivan ran unopposed to succeed him and now seeks legislative approval to assume the prosecution of all misdemeanors and juvenile and Child Protective Services cases, leaving County Attorney-elect Greg Barber with only civil cases.
“I’ve spent almost 15 years as DA, the longest anybody has ever served in the county, and I accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to do,” said Bland, 51. “We eliminated the backlog of cases years ago.
“With the population growth and things going on, our caseload had more than doubled from 1,700 to 2,000 a year to more than 4,000. Before we transferred to being paperless, we gave things to defense attorneys with copies, tapes and CDs.
“Now that we’re all digital, we’re able to send discovery out almost as quickly as the defendants are indicted.”
Bland graduated from Texas A&M in 1991 and Texas Tech School of Law in 1994 before working as an assistant DA under John Smith and in private practice. He and his wife Heather have three children.
Asked if the county commissioners’ refusal to give his assistants the pay raises he wanted was a factor in his decision, Bland said, “No, you do get tired of facing things like that, the politics and bureaucracy, but then everybody feels like they deserve more money.
“I’ve been having a tough time hiring people and keeping them because the cost of living is high in Odessa.”
Currently one short of a full staff of 15 assistant prosecutors, Bland has a total of about 30 employees.
He will specialize in criminal defense, family law and personal injury cases in a downtown office building that he is negotiating the purchase of.
“I won’t be seeking justice for the State of Texas anymore,” he said. “I’ll seek it for my clients. I dedicated 15 years of my life to doing my best to serve the public and serve the interests of justice and now I will serve my clients one at a time.”
Bland emphasizes that he didn’t become just an administrator but kept trying cases personally, including some of the most high-profile, and only lost one, involving a shooting at the mall, in 21 years as an assistant and DA. “I loved being the DA and being a prosecutor,” he said.
“It’s been my passion, but I will enjoy not having the stress of being the head of a pretty large organization and serving at the whims of the legislature and commissioners. I look forward to being a private citizen and representing my clients. With all my experience, I’m poised to do a really good job.”
Two of Bland’s former assistants, Gallivan and Crane-Winkler County DA Amanda Navarette, say one reason they liked working for him was that he gave them a lot of autonomy. “Bobby cares about justice and doing the right thing,” Navarette said.
“He encouraged us to work toward our goals and several of us ran for DA and judge. He also provided the guidance we needed during trials, popping in for final arguments and having an open door so we could go in and talk about our cases.”
Noting that ex-Bland assistant Brooke Hendricks is now a court-at-law judge here and that Scott Layh became county attorney and a court-at-law judge before going into private practice, Navarette said Bland has been different from a lot of Texas DAs inasmuch as his assistants were under less pressure.
“Our job was to see that justice was done even if that meant ultimately dismissing or rejecting a case,” she said. “Bobby let everyone have their own personalities. Some DAs are all about the conviction rate and how many trials you have, but he didn’t put that extra pressure on you.
“After I became a DA myself, I could always call and get his advice on things that came up.”
Gallivan said Bland “made the tough decisions and the best decisions possible based on the knowledge he had without regard for political consequences.
“He let us do our jobs and didn’t micromanage,” Gallivan said. “He was there for support.”
Along with Navarette and Gallivan, Bland said, he’s had many exceptional lawyers work for him including current First Assistant Lisa Borden and the late Justin Cunningham and Lenny Bruce.
“Of course you want convictions and sentences, but the most important thing is to make sure you’re doing the right thing on every case whether it’s popular or not,” he said. “If for some reason you can’t make a case, you shouldn’t try it because the worst thing you can do is to go after somebody when you shouldn’t just because you can.”
Bob Campbell is a reporter for the Odessa American covering Religion and Lifestyle in the Permian Basin.