Tarrant tax assessor calls for Joe Shannon to step down

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Tarrant County Tax Assessor Ron Wright said Wednesday that District Attorney Joe Shannon should resign because of sexual harassment allegations that "have left an unrelenting cloud hanging over the DA's office."

Wright, who like Shannon is a Republican, is the first county elected official to call for Shannon to step down since details of the accusations, which prompted a $375,000 legal settlement, were made public Friday.

"I think it's the right thing to do and appropriate not just for a Tarrant County elected official but also as a Republican elected official," said Wright, who has been involved in local politics for years. "This is not going away."

Shannon responded by reiterating: "I have absolutely no intention of resigning."

"The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office is widely regarded as the best in the state," Shannon said. "This reputation has been built over a 40-year period. ... This office is not defined by the settlement of one complaint, but by the hard work of our prosecutors. Many violent criminals have been taken off the streets. I will continue to lead this effort."

In September, former Assistant District Attorney Sabrina Sabin accepted a $375,000 no-fault settlement after county officials investigated her complaints. The settlement included a confidentiality agreement.

Details of Shannon's alleged conduct emerged last week after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, acting on an open-records request from the Star-Telegram, ordered some of the information in the case to be released.

Among the documents released were handwritten diaries in which Sabin, 44, described how Shannon repeatedly made comments about her body, touched her inappropriately and used sexual language while he was her boss.

On Tuesday, senior Tarrant County officials defended their handling of the case, saying the settlement probably saved the county more than $800,000.

"This is really tragic for everybody," Wright said Wednesday in an interview. "I think the commissioners made the right call in terms of protecting the taxpayers and limiting the financial damage. But unfortunately, it prevented all the information from getting out, which is why we're left with this mess.

"I don't know Mr. Shannon that well," Wright said. "I don't know Ms. Sabin at all. But if even a couple of those allegations are true, he should not be in public office. I'm not saying whether they are or they are not. I simply don't know. I'm just trying to deal with the aftermath."

Shannon, 72, has served as district attorney since 2009, when Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to serve out of the term of the late Tim Curry.

Shannon was elected to his own term in 2010 and is up for re-election next year.

Like Shannon, Wright is one of several dozen officials, including judges, who are elected countywide. A onetime Arlington City Council member, Wright was chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton before being appointed tax assessor after Betsy Price was elected Fort Worth mayor. Wright was elected to a full term in November.

In a statement Wednesday, he said the allegations have "cast a pall over county government and have left an unrelenting cloud hanging over the DA's office. It is a cloud that will unavoidably impact the morale of the office, shake the public's confidence, and encumber the DA's ability to effectively carry out his duties. That cloud will not go away as long as Mr. Shannon is in office.

"As a fellow Republican elected official, I take no joy in this," Wright said. "In fact, it pains me to do it, but I believe it is the right thing to do."

Jennifer Hall, chairwoman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, said she and Shannon met Wednesday but did not discuss the nature of the allegations.

"I told him I wasn't there to ask him if anything was true or not true," Hall said. "I didn't want to put him on the spot. I just wanted to give him the opportunity to talk to me about anything he wanted to discuss. We discussed some of the functions of his office and I don't believe there is a reason at this point why things won't happen at the DA's office as they should."

Hall said Wright is free to express his opinion.

"But from the party's standpoint, I still don't feel like passing judgment," Hall said. "I think it's early in all this coming to light."

Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said he "wouldn't be one to call for anybody's resignation, not without getting all the facts on the table."

"I've been involved in these employer-employee contests over 18 years," Wilder said.

"I've always found that sometimes, employers can't discuss everything. And it's certainly better to wait and see what comes out. I've never been accused of what Joe has been accused of, but just about everything else and I've never lost one. You just never know about employee allegations until the facts get tested, and usually that's in court."

A courtroom airing of the case appears unlikely. County officials said September's settlement ended the matter, at least legally.

Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544

Twitter: @tsmadigan

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