Having served 15 years as Washington County Prosecutor – longer than any other person to fill that position – Dustin Houchin said it’s time to close this chapter of his career.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for the system to have a lifetime prosecutor,” he said. “I’ve accomplished the goals I set. I was elected to four terms; more than anyone ever in the county. I’m proud of that and I think four terms is enough.”
Houchin hopes to remain involved in the Washington County justice system in another capacity. He has decided to seek the position of Superior Court Judge after current Judge Frank Newkirk Jr. announced his pending retirement.
Four terms as Prosecutor has given him the opportunity to gain legal experience and develop the work ethic, skills and focus necessary to be a successful judge, he said.
“I am a better person for having been a prosecutor for 15 years. That’s a gift the people of Washington County gave me,” he said. “I’m a stronger, more skilled lawyer and I’ve handled tens of thousands of cases. That preparation and experience are not easy to get.”
Houchin said serving as Prosecutor has made him a far more compassionate person as he has witnessed the spectrum of human imperfection.
Just 26 years old when he was first elected in 2006, Houchin said he fully appreciates that voters took a chance on a young attorney. “I felt the pressure to deliver,” he said. “I vowed to use the time I had to make the Prosecutor’s Office the kind of office the County deserved to have.”
Houchin took office following a long line of one-term prosecutors. He wanted to build the public’s trust and he wanted to establish continuity and stability. His first goal was to establish a good working relationship with law enforcement at all levels. “I wanted state and federal agencies to want to work here,” he explained. “We’re a small office with limited resources; we need the help of everybody.”
Houchin said his focus on law enforcement has resulted in an environment of mutual trust and respect. That has translated to good investigations, solid cases, and justice for victims.
Several important areas have received increased attention during Houchin’s tenure. Drug enforcement and prosecution have substantially increased. Sex offender registry oversight has been established resulting in dozens of convictions for offenders not properly registering.
Also, the adult protective services unit has expanded from one investigator to three, utilizing state grants. Finally, Washington County’s child support collection rate is above state and national averages every year and is among the top in the state.
Houchin noted, though, that the most important function of his office is to prosecute cases. That entails functioning at a high level, beginning with an investigation and culminating at trial. He has focused on making himself and his deputies highly proficient with an emphasis on using technology for both investigations and trial presentations. The office has prosecuted dozens of jury trials under Houchin’s leadership. “We are known for delivering justice for victims, and I am proud of that,” said Houchin.
Prosecutor Houchin is hopeful that his successful legacy will continue with one of his team members taking over the office. Houchin said he is encouraging Deputy Prosecutor, Tara Coats Hunt to seek office. “Tara has been with me every step of the way over the last five years, and she is more than capable of taking the reins and making the office even better,” said Houchin. “I hope the citizens of Washington County will put their trust in Tara, just as they have done for me.”
Houchin said he’s now ready for a new challenge—Superior Court Judge.
Houchin believes the court provides a community service. “I truly see it that way. Like all governments, the judge is providing a service. Put simply, the Judge must decide and the Judge must lead.”
I believe when people come to court they’re looking first and foremost for a decision. They want an answer,” he said. “The judge must provide a clear, decisive answer in a timely manner: so people can move on with their lives; so businesses can have certainty; so landlords and tenants know what next month looks like; so victims can feel protected. I’ll have a real focus on providing that service and certainty to the community.”
Houchin also said a judge is responsible as a leader, ensuring that everybody in the legal system is performing, from attorneys to staff to service/treatment providers and vendors to the court. “It’s the judge’s role to make sure that if you’re connected to the court, you do your job competently and are held accountable if you don’t. Only the judge can do that. You have to provide that leadership.”
Having moved with his wife, Erin, back to the county when he began practicing law, Houchin said he is committed to making the community a better place. He wants to ensure the county is safe for all families who call it home. “We have a beautiful, generous, faithful, safe, and vibrant community here. I feel an obligation to do my part. This is a way I can” he said. “I know the justice system and ways I believe I can make it better. I feel compelled to do that.”