In the Republican Party primary for Tarrant County district attorney, former state District Judge Sharen Wilson cruised to victory in a tough three-way race Tuesday in which she pledged to “return integrity” to the prosecutor’s office.
Wilson — who ran on her record as “Tarrant County’s toughest criminal court judge” — had 59.4 percent of the ballots cast while defense attorneys George Mackey and Kathy Lowthorp had 32 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, according to complete but unofficial returns.
Wilson, reached at her Election Day watch party, believed she was going to win the election.
“Yes, I feel confident, we’re confident we’re going to avoid a runoff,” Wilson said before all of the precincts had reported.
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As district attorney, Wilson said she will try to work more closely with Tarrant County police agencies and make sure they get a “good hearing” at the district attorney’s office.
Unless a write-in candidate emerges, whoever wins the GOP primary will serve as the county’s top prosecutor since the Democrats did not field a candidate for the general election in November.
During the campaign, Mackey and Lowthorp, criticized Wilson’s record as a felony court judge, which included challenging her courtroom demeanor, and publicized that she was once disciplined for wrongfully incarcerating a defendant and improperly talking with jurors during a trial.
The primary winner signals a changing of the guard in Tarrant County. For the first time in 42 years, no one closely associated with the late and legendary prosecutor Tim Curry will hold the office.
The winner will assume control of the county’s largest law firm, with 164 attorneys and a support staff that raises the employee total to about 325. The office handles some 45,000 criminal cases a year and has a budget of around $36 million.
The district attorney serves a four-year term and is paid $193,402 a year.
District Attorney Joe Shannon, who was appointed district attorney by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009 after Curry’s death, was elected to his own term in 2010 but chose not to run after the county paid a $375,000 no-fault settlement in 2012 in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former assistant district attorney. Shannon denied the accusations, but the settlement upset many in his party.
During the most recent campaign reporting period from Jan. 24 to Feb. 22, Wilson received the most contributions.
She had $145,512.66 in cash, including a $25,000 contribution from John Foster of Arlington, and a $5,000 donation from Dallas businessman Monty Bennett who has been embroiled in a legal battle with the Tarrant Regional Water District.
Wilson also received endorsements from numerous elected officials, including Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, commissioners Gary Fickes and Andy Nguyen, and many mayors, including Betsy Price of Fort Worth, Robert Cluck of Arlington and William D. Tate of Grapevine. The Fort Worth and Arlington police associations have also backed Wilson.
Promising to run the district attorney’s office more like a law firm, Wilson said she would ensure that promotions are based less on seniority and more on how hard an attorney works. She also said the office needs to be more responsive to the public. Her campaign literature also stresses being more responsive to victims.
Lowthorp made Wilson’s integrity a central issue in her campaign.
A veteran criminal defense attorney and former military and civilian police officer, Lowthorp originally filed to run against Wilson as a judicial candidate but switched to the district attorney’s race when Gill dropped out. Lowthorp said Wilson needed a strong opponent.
Lowthorp had had a history with Wilson.
In 2006, Lowthorp filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct after she said Wilson unfairly met with jurors during the trial of Allen Christopher Roman, an Arlington teenager involved in a violent convenience store robbery.
In 2008, Wilson received a private admonition — not a public reprimand — from the commission for engaging in conduct that caused two jurors to believe she was biased against Roman and Lowthorp. She was also punished for improperly revoking his bail.
Earlier in the campaign, Wilson was not forthcoming about being disciplined. Now she acknowledges being punished but says she took those actions to protect the community. She said Roman was attending classes at Sam Houston High School while charged with a serious crime, something she thought was inappropriate.
Lowthorp said raising money for the race had been difficult. Her latest campaign finance report says that she had no cash on hand and had received $4,450 in contributions, including $3,100 from attorney Mimi Coffey.
If elected, Lowthorp said, she would improve investigations at the district attorney’s office to prevent cases from being lost. She would also “have a war on gangs like there was a war on drugs.” And she would seek to improve communication with law enforcement agencies.
Mackey, a former chief felony prosecutor and criminal defense attorney with 39 years of experience, did not have a high-profile name before the primary.
He for the firranst time saying he didn’t want any “slippage” in the integrity of the district attorney’s office.
Mackey was endorsed by Marvin Collins, a former U.S. attorney and first assistant chief in the district attorney’s office; and Donald R. Curry, Tim Curry’s campaign manager. (Tim and Don Curry were not related.)
To pay for his campaign, Mackey invested $75,000 of his own money. On the last contribution report, he had $43,461 on hand, including $1,000 contributions from Tom Moncrief of Fort Worth, Jim Claunch of Fort Worth and John Lively of Fort Worth.