With decades of experience, Sandye Brown helps to achieve justice at GC

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Sandye Brown at the District Attorney's Office back in the late 1990s.

Over the past 20 years, there have been a lot of changes at the Grayson County District Attorney's Office from the people in the office's elected lead to the technology used to try to the cases. But there have been some constants and one of those has been Senior Staff Assistant Sandye Brown.

A graduate of Texas A&M University at Commerce with a degree in English and Journalism, Brown didn't set out to be a legal eagle. She minored in education but knew that probably wasn't what she was going to do either.

"It was kind of a backup plan so I knew I wouldn't starve," she said and laughed. She said her parents felt better knowing she had that back up plan. Right after graduation she temped at businesses in Grayson County and then spent a couple of years in the insurance business before eventually being told there was an opening at the Grayson County District Attorney's Office in April of 1998.

Bob Jarvis was the district attorney back then and hired her.

"IT was very fast paced. It was an intensive training in the job, That was before we had automated and computerized a lot of the functions," Brown said.

Sandye Brown

She worked as the secretary for County Court-at-Law 1 for three months and then was promoted to help take handle all of the family violence misdemeanor cases.

That was right about the time that the legislature created a separate offense for family violence. Before that assaults were just assaults. 

The law, Jarvis said, was new to everyone.

"And I needed someone I could trust to work these cases. I chose Sandye. I had her and my investigator, Jerry Wright put together a training notebook for law enforcement. We had several meetings where the three of us educated them about the new law and procedures.

"Sandye’s calm demeanor and efficiency was the foundation for a very successfully family violence section of the office. I could always count on her to have everything done correctly and on time, but more importantly, she cared about the victims and went out of her way to make sure they were taken care of," Jarvis said. 

By 2002, Brown was promoted to the felony secretary for the 15th state district court and shortly after that, Kerye Ashmore was hired as the assistant district attorney assigned to that Court. Ashmore, who is the first assistant at the DA's Office, had previously been the elected DA in Lamar County and was hired when Joe Brown won the GC DA seat when the county switched from mostly Democrats to Republicans in local offices.

"That's when my informal legal training really began," Sandye Brown said of Ashmore's arrival in Sherman. The two have worked together ever since. 

Joe Brown was quick to point out that Sandye has long been an asset for the office.

Grayson County's First Assistant District Attorney Kerye Ashmore said he thinks Sandye Brown probably knows more law than he does after all of their years of working together.

"Sandye Brown in one of those unsung heroes who works behind the scenes to make justice happen," he said, adding that she has been there so long now that she is one of the people that folks go to for institutional knowledge.

"She is no nonsense, and very smart. One of her strengths is that she takes interest in a case, and is not just going through the motions. It is like having another investigator on the case. She is strategizing and looking for ways to make a case better. She often proactively looks for evidence — for example listening to jail phone calls from murder defendants to attempt to find useful material. She has the right kind of personality to deal with the hard charging lawyers in the prosecutor's office. She stays calm and very little upsets her," he said.

Ashmore was also quick to attribute part of the success he has had at the GCDA's Office to Sandye Brown.

"We've worked together for 20 years now and I couldn't practice law without her," he said one recent afternoon. 

"She knows at least as much law as I do, probably more. I've been blessed with good people I've worked with for the last 42 years since I was licensed and she's absolutely the best."

Sandye Brown said she has learned most of that law from Ashmore by soaking up the things he did as he practiced. She learned those things while typing up his briefs for appeals or motions and notices to other agencies about what is needed to take a case to court.

Sandye Brown at the GCDA's Office

She has done so much learning, Ashmore said, that now he just has to tell her what he needs and she puts the documents together without his help. In fact, she handles most of the discovery in their cases.

"I trust her to see to it that all of the discovery is done so that we're not in the middle of trial and and all of a sudden a defense lawyer goes, 'I don't have that. I don't have any idea of what they're talking about.' She handles the discovery. I never have to get bogged down in those kinds of things. Now before we go to trial we have to file stuff saying here is all of the discovery. She tracks all of that."

And the defense bar knows that about her, he said, as well as those in the prosecutor's office. 

"Instead of defense lawyers calling me saying I need so and so, or I've looked at this and I don't think I have so and so, they just go straight to Sandye. Sandye knows work product that we don't turn over (to the defense) and she will, on her own, go through records and she will point out to me things like, 'Did you know way back in this record there is so and so, don't you think that's important?'"

Yes, he said, those things do turn out to be important and she catches them.

He said the jury doesn't see all of those things when he is standing in front of them telling them the prosecutions theory of the case or examining a witness, but they see the results when the case is laid out in a straight forward way for them.

Sandye Brown said she enjoys working with Ashmore too. 

"He is a very good boss to work for actually. Everybody always hopes to hear me say something negative about him, but I really don't have anything negative to say. He is one of the best prosecutors anywhere in my opinion. And, I've worked with a lot over the years. He knows his stuff. He is very fair and he doesn't get angry."

Brown said she is eligible to retire in a few years, but she isn't sure if she will. Part of that is because she cares about the job. She doesn't get caught in the politics involved in the lead spot in the office. She prefers to stay in the background working with the victims to see that justice is done.

Sandye Brown in the GC grand jury room

"Sometimes I sit back and I have an actual surreal moment where I realize that I am actually inside a moment that other people are only going to get to read about," she said of the job that she said is so tied to her own self identity that she doesn't even know what she would do if she did retire.

Though she has worked on some of the darkest cases to come through the office in decades, Brown said she tries hard not to get bogged down in the horror of some of the evidence she has to wade through to help build cases. 

When she looks at that evidence, she said, she is looking for the specific things that they need to point out to the jury so she is able to keep the overall horror of the situation at bay. And when she leaves the office, she said, she leaves all of that behind.

"Most of the time by the time I walk into the door at my house if you ask me what I did that day, I would probably have to really think to tell you because I have already turned it off. I don't dwell on it. That doesn't mean that some of it doesn't stick with you more than you would like."

When she is not at the office working, she likes to do things that are not at all like what she does for a living. She isn't one to go home and watch courtroom dramas or crime procedurals on television. Instead, she said, she is likely to be found outside by the water somewhere or gardening. She is also enjoys nature photography.