‘Knowledge and experience’: McLennan County DA lures former state district judge out of retirement

Ralph Strother, a former felony prosecutor, to work for Josh Tetens’ office
Ralph Strother (left) and District Attorney Josh Tetens (right) (KWTX File Photos)
Ralph Strother (left) and District Attorney Josh Tetens (right) (KWTX File Photos)(KWTX PHOTOS)
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 6:44 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - McLennan County District Attorney Josh Tetens has made a number of significant changes in the DA’s office since taking over as the county’s chief law enforcement officer just more than a month ago.

With more tricks up his sleeve, Tetens is poised to pull off quite a major coup by luring Ralph Strother, a retired state district judge and former felony prosecutor, out of retirement to come work for Tetens’ office.

It probably didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get Strother back in the saddle. It was no secret that Strother was not ready to retire when he hit the statutory mandatory retirement age of 75 for state district judges.

Tetens said Strother will bring a “great depth of knowledge and experience” to the office, adding that he is “thrilled he is joining our team.”

“From prosecutor to judge, his long history in the courthouse makes him a true asset for any office and we’re grateful to have him with us,” Tetens said. “Judge Strother’s duties will be wide and varied, as he will be helping us address the thousands of backlogged cases, from screening to the courtroom. We know he’s ready and prepared to continue our mission to hold criminals that do harm in our community accountable.

“Citizens want the law enforced, for crimes to have consequences, and Judge Strother is going to continue doing just that as our newest prosecutor,” Tetens said.

Former Texas Gov. George W. Bush appointed Strother in January 1999 to replace the retiring Bill Logue. However, because of a law change, Strother, unlike Logue, was allowed to finish his term in office, retiring at 77 in December 2020. Still, it was not his choice to retire.

So at 79, Strother said he is looking forward to bringing back to the DA’s office his wealth of experience, which includes 22 years as state district judge, a total of four years as a felony prosecutor in McLennan County and a judicial region covering three West Texas counties, working as Waco police legal adviser, interim chancellor for the Texas State Technical College system and as a Defense Intelligence Agency operative during the Vietnam War. In his spare time, he also served as Waco school board president.

“I had some attorney friends suggest to me after Mr. Tetens was elected that I ought to consider going back to work,” Strother said. “I thought about that for a while and I asked Josh if there was anything they would have me do and that I would love to serve again. They offered me a position and I accepted and I am very grateful for the opportunity and I appreciate Mr. Tetens for having the confidence in me and I hope I can make a contribution.”

Strother, who says he still runs between 35 and 40 miles a week, is expected to start work on Wednesday, pending approval of his “rehiring” by the McLennan County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

Strother was a dynamic assistant district attorney in McLennan County, prosecuting capital murder defendants John Albert Burks, Clydell Coleman and Billie Wayne Coble, who all have since been executed. He also prosecuted Ramiro Rubi Ibarra, whose appeals have kept him on death row since 1997.

While judge of 19th State District Court, Strother presided over a number of high-profile cases, including murder defendants Rowena Ledbetter, Darlene Gentry and Matt Baker, who killed their respective spouses, the sexual assault case involving Baylor fraternity president Jacob Anderson, and the murder case of Carlton Dotson, who killed his Baylor basketball teammate, Patrick Dennehy, in 2003.