Fort Worth

Tarrant County district attorney cleared of wrongdoing in criminal complaint

District Attorney Sharen Wilson in a 2015 file photo.
District Attorney Sharen Wilson in a 2015 file photo. Star-Telegram

A special prosecutor assigned to investigate a criminal complaint against Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson and her staff determined that there was “insufficient evidence of criminal intent” to move forward with the case.

“I’ve decided that no further action is warranted,” said Maureen Shelton, the Wichita County district attorney who had been assigned to investigate the case.

The complaint involved an email Wilson sent to employees on their personal accounts in August, inviting them to a campaign fundraiser and seeking financial contributions from $100 to $1,000.

The complaint suggested that Wilson had violated state law by misusing official information to obtain information, sources said.

In an emailed response, Wilson said she erred in sending the campaign email to staff.

“Out of courtesy, I included all employees on the invitation list for an event last year, without any requirement to attend or donate,” Wilson said. “I was mistaken in doing so and will not do it again. I have added an extra layer of review to advise me on all future campaign decisions.”

The investigation began last fall and the case was quickly transferred from Tarrant County to 97th District Judge Jack A. McGaughey in Montague County.

McGaughey signed an order Oct. 26, 2016, explaining he was “disqualifying” Wilson “from acting in a criminal investigation of which she is the subject.”

The investigation is “being based on credible evidence of criminal misconduct for an offense within Criminal District Attorney’s authority to prosecute.” The order said Wilson was “the subject of a criminal investigation” by the “Public Integrity Unit of the Texas Rangers.”

‘No issues in the future’

Shelton was appointed special prosecutor by McGaughey in November.

She told the Star-Telegram that she sent a letter to McGaughey on Wednesday, explaining her findings.

The letter states that “after reviewing the initial complaint, speaking with the Texas Rangers regarding their inquiry, and talking to the Criminal District Attorney with a Texas Ranger present, I believe there is insufficient evidence of criminal intent on the part of the Criminal District Attorney or her staff. I have been assured that there are policies and procedures in place so there will be no issues in the future.”

Shelton declined to discuss the details of the case, but the Star-Telegram discovered it involved emails sent by Wilson.

In the first email on Aug. 10, Wilson asked employees for their personal emails as part of an effort to update contact lists, saying “recent events have emphasized how crucial it is for us to have current contact information for each of our employees.” The email asked for employees’ personal email addresses.

In a second email from her campaign email address on Sept. 28, employees were invited to her fundraiser at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. The invitation said, “Sharen would appreciate your support of $1,000-$500-$250-$100.”

The honorary hosts at the event included a number of state and county officials, including state Sen. Jane Nelson, state Sen. Kelly Hancock and County Judge Glen Whitley.

‘That’s inappropriate’

Legal experts were mixed on whether this rose to the level of a criminal violation.

Gerald S. Reamey, a law professor at St. Mary’s University Law School in San Antonio, said soliciting donations from employees would definitely be a crime under the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activities for federal employees. While state law has no such specific prohibition, Reamey said it puts employees in a difficult position.

“You can’t use your government facilities to campaign or solicit funds for your campaign,” Reamey said. “An elected official shouldn’t be soliciting employees who work for her for money. I think that’s as a matter of policy and ethics. I think it’s very clear that’s inappropriate.”

The Texas Penal Code outlines the laws regarding Misuse of Official Information, stating “a public servant commits an offense if with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, he discloses or uses information for a nongovernmental purpose (1) that he has access to by means of his office or employment; and (2) has not been made public.”

Susan Klein, a University of Texas law professor, said she would advise against sending campaign emails to employees’ personal emails, but said she didn’t believe it rises to the level of a criminal offense.

Wilson, who was a criminal district judge for 23 years, was sworn in as district attorney on Jan. 1, 2015.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna