Former judge promises to “right the ship” at DA’s office

Posted Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Surrounded by more than 100 supporters on the steps of downtown’s historic courthouse, former state District Judge Sharen Wilson pledged on Thursday to “right the ship” if elected to lead the “scandal plagued” Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

Wilson retired from the felony district court bench she held for 23 years this week to seek the Republican Party nomination in the March 2014 primary. State law required her to step down from a job Wilson said she loved after deciding to seek another elective office.

“There is no more important duty right now,” said Wilson, who worked as a Tarrant County prosecutor in the 1980s. “I stepped down to return to the district attorney’s office to help right the ship … to get this office back on track.”

So far, Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon says he won’t make a decision on seeking re-election until the end of the month. Shannon was appointed in 2009 following the death of District Attorney Tim Curry, then was elected to the post in 2010.

But the veteran prosecutor, who also is a Republican, is considered vulnerable following a $375,000 settlement by the county of a sexual harassment claim brought by a former assistant district attorney. Shannon has denied her accusations.

Three other GOP candidates entered the race earlier. One of Shannon’s top lieutenants, Bob Gill, a deputy chief in the district attorneys office, is running for his boss’ job along with veteran attorneys and former prosecutors Wes Ball and George Mackey.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson introduced Wilson during the hot morning news conference, and Wilson said they will campaign “arm-in-arm” until next November.

“She has every value, every bit of integrity,” Anderson said. “She is conservative and she is above reproach in her integrity ….”

In her announcement, Wilson hammered on the integrity issue, but never mentioned Shannon by name, saying that Republicans hold their elected officials to a high standard. She praised the courtroom prosecutors, but said that leadership from the top is lacking.

“When we give a person such incredible power over life and death, and freedom and prison, that that person must abide by the highest standards,” Wilson said. “That person must be professional above reproach, ethical beyond question and qualified beyond equal.”

Besides ethics, Wilson also promised to bring fiscal control to the agency, which has about 325 employees — including 164 attorneys — and about a $35 million budget. But that budget is expected to grow to $36.4 million in the next fiscal year, a county official said.

“It is time to take a fresh set of eyes from the outside and look at each department. How can we save money,” Wilson said.

Shannon did not return a phone call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Gill, who served five terms as a state district judge before retiring to rejoin the district attorney’s office, defended his office’s record.

“I agree that the attorneys in the Tarrant County district attorneys office are doing a great job prosecuting criminals and I am proud of being a part of that team,” Gill said. “I am committed to ensuring that we remain the best district attorneys office in the state.”

Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714 Twitter: @MaxBBaker

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