Ruling: Tarrant DA must release information on harassment case

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Texas Attorney General's office has ruled that Tarrant County must make public information related to a sexual harassment complaint filed against District Attorney Joe Shannon.

In September, former assistant district attorney Sabrina Sabin accepted a $375,000 no-fault settlement with Tarrant County, promising to abide by confidentiality clauses in the agreement. Most details of Sabin's complaint against Shannon, his office and the county were kept secret.

Several media agencies, including the Star-Telegram, filed open records requests with the county, seeking additional information and documents from the case. The county declined to release the information, and instead sought a ruling from Attorney General Greg Abbott.

"If there is an adequate summary of an investigation of alleged sexual harassment, the investigation summary must be released," assistant Attorney General Paige Lay wrote in the ruling issued Tuesday. "If no adequate summary of the investigation exists, then all of the information relating to the investigation ordinarily must be released, with the exception of information that would identify victims and witnesses."

It was not clear from the ruling specifically what must be released. Tarrant County has 30 days to release the information or file suit in state district court to try and keep it private.

"We have received the 13-page, detailed ruling from the Attorney General's Office. However, we have not received the documents as marked by the AG," the district attorney office said Wednesday in a statement. "Until we have an opportunity to review the documents, we will not be able to determine which documents must be withheld and those that may be released.

"Decisions regarding the release of those documents must be made by all parties within the 30 days permitted by law," the statement said. "Until this process is complete, we are unable to elaborate further."

In a Dec. 30 letter to Abbott, Dallas attorney Robert Hinton criticized the amount of taxpayer money spent on the case, which includes at least $100,000 in investigation and legal fees, and accused the county of deceiving the public by keeping details private.

On Wednesday, Hinton, who represents several unnamed Tarrant County residents, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"It says that the things that are not appropriate can simply be redacted, but not anything that has to do with what the facts are," Hinton said. "But that isn't the point, in my view. The point is, can the government keep from the public what they are doing about these allegations, what the government is doing with their money to try and make the problem go away, and keep the public in the dark?

"That's what this is all about," Hinton said. "What Greg Abbott's opinion says is that you can't do what you're doing."

According to documents that have been released, Sabin, 44, initiated her complaint against Shannon, his office and the county in early summer.

"In her charge, [Sabin] claims she was harassed by an Elected Official and retaliated against by unnamed persons who allegedly spread rumors about her," Shannon's office wrote in a letter to Abbott last October.

No other details of the case have been released. Sabin, who left the district attorney's office late last year, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, nor could her lawyer, Susan Hutchison.

Tim Madigan, (817) 390-7544

Twitter: @tsmadigan

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