After winning DA’s race, Ori White talks the issues

FAR WEST TEXAS — Ori White has run a law firm in Fort Stockton since 1992, focusing primarily on criminal defense, personal injury and divorce. But after almost 30 years in private practice, he’ll be closing up at the end of the year.

That’s because last week, White, who grew up in Marfa, won a race against incumbent Sandy Wilson to become the new 83rd District attorney — a sprawling office that handles crimes in Presidio, Brewster, Jeff Davis and Pecos counties. His term starts next year.

“I’m in for the long haul,” White said in a phone interview on Friday. “I look forward to putting both feet into the 83rd DA’s office so I can give it my best.”

“I’m excited to be of service to the 83rd District,” he added. “Really, in my view, I’m going to have the best job in the world.”

The “Super Tuesday” primaries in Texas on March 3rd saw Republican and Democratic voters go to the polls to pick their nominees for president, state senator and more. The primary election night shook things up at the state and national level, with — for example — Joe Biden emerging as a frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary.

That’s less true at the local level, where many county-level positions went uncontested. But one notable exception was the race for the DA’s office, where Ori White challenged Wilson in the Republican primary and won.

In our meet-the-candidates interviews with White and Wilson, Wilson touted her efforts to train and educate law enforcement in her appeal to voters. White said he wanted to restore faith in “principles of accountability, responsibility and common sense” and “ensure that victims are heard.”

White won with 53 percent of the vote, compared to Wilson’s 47. He was boosted by a sizable lead in Fort Stockton — the largest city in the 83rd — as well as by votes in Presidio County and Marfa, where White maintains longtime family ties. And with no Democratic challengers, the win secured White’s fate as the new district attorney for Presidio County.

In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, White congratulated Wilson on a good campaign and wished her the best.

“Ms. Wilson fought hard and ran a very, very hard campaign as well,” White said. He also said he appreciated that the race had stayed “about the issues.”

Wilson has been our district attorney since 2016. Last week, The Big Bend Sentinel reached out White to learn more about him and his major criminal justice issues, and to gauge what his philosophy will be once in office.

In a roughly hour-long interview, White discussed the devastating effects methamphetamine has on public safety and local families, Presidio County’s sparse financial resources and its unique position on the border, and more. And he emphasized that he was a team player whose “true secret” is finding and hiring “wonderful people who are dedicated to public service.”

Asked about his top priorities, White named two. He said he wanted to make sure victims were involved in criminal proceedings and further crack down on methamphetamine, a drug which he said was causing damage in West Texas.

“One of my highest priorities is to make sure that any victim of any type of crime is communicated with and knows what court dates are coming up,” he said, emphasizing a point that he also made during his meet-the-candidates survey. “Even if it’s pretrial.”

He also had strong words for meth dealers. “All over West Texas, people are selling methamphetamine,” he said. “They’re vendors of death. If you’re dealing that stuff, you’re essentially just killing people.”

Citing his previous experience as a district attorney — White was the 112th District Attorney for the State of Texas from 1997 until 2004 — he also stressed that meth addiction could lead to ancillary crimes, from theft to child abuse.

White pointed to the number of cases on child-protective services dockets. When he was a DA, he estimated he saw around three to five such cases a month. “Now, it’s not uncommon for us to have 10-15 cases a month,” he said.

“Almost every single case we’ve got deals with addiction to meth,” he added. “We have more grandparents raising their grandkids in West Texas — and all over Texas.”

Asked whether he would consider rehiring people from Wilson’s DA’s office, White said that “everyone is invited to reapply.” And he said there “definitely needs to be multiple offices” to help him serve his district’s large size and said he was looking for a place to set up offices in Presidio and Jeff Davis counties.

Asked about Presidio and Brewster’s unique position as sprawling and rugged rural border counties, White brought up issues with smuggling, including of illegal narcotics.

“In border counties, there’s always gonna be a lot more drug courier cases,” he said. “Of course we want to aggressively prosecute those.”

Still, he acknowledged that those busted for drug transport were often low-level and said prosecutors need to have “really good cooperation” with federal authorities to ensure higher-level arrests.

“One way is to make sure there’s good lines of communication between the DA’s office and all local law enforcement” as well as federal authorities, he said. “A cooperative effort by state and federal authorities is really going to make our communities safer. And I’m hoping to foster those relationships.”

White is no stranger to Marfa. Besides growing up here, his family has been here since at least the time of his great-grandfather, who White said had pioneered a homestead in the area. And his father was “a rancher all his life,” White said.

He’s excited to be back and looks forward to building up relationships with law enforcement and lawyers in the area. “I’m not someone who makes decisions in isolation,” he said.