For the first time in more than 40 years, an incumbent isn't running for district attorney in Tarrant County. Joe Shannon Jr., the 13th criminal district attorney, announced his retirement not long after a sexual harassment case against him was settled, ultimately costing taxpayers about $500,000.
Three Republican candidates are vying to replace Shannon.
Before we talk names, and qualifications, consider these numbers: The job pays about $200,000. The elected official will manage a budget of more than $35 million. And the office handles roughly 45,000 criminal cases a year.
Mackey has 30 years of both criminal prosecution and criminal defense experience in Fort Worth, and he used to work in the district attorney’s office.
“People should vote for me because ... I have the qualifications and the background,” he says. “I have the experience of trying these cases, dealing with assistant DAs. And the fact is that my leadership skills that were developed in the U.S. Air Force, when I was an officer, will help me lead this office of over 300 people.”
Wilson, too, has worked for the Tarrant County district attorney's office. But, for the last 23 years, she was a district court judge.
“And throughout all that training and experience, I’ve learned a lot about the criminal justice system and what it takes to work effectively,” she says. “And I’m ready to bring those things to the district attorney’s office.”
Lowthorp is an Arlington defense attorney, and the only candidate with a law enforcement background. She explains why she wants to be the lead prosecutor.
“It’s not just about prosecuting,” she says. “Actually the code says to seek justice, [it] does not say to prosecute, so I will be the most conservative when it comes to protecting people’s rights. Not only the victims. But it’s also having a conscientious view of being concerned of innocent people’s freedoms being taken away.”
All three say they want to make Tarrant County a safe place to live and work, to be fiscally responsible with the office’s budget, and each recall the days when the late Tim Curry, the district attorney before Shannon, made the district attorney’s office one of the best in the state.
“Mr. Curry’s policy was 'I will hire good people and then I will expect them to do a good job. But I’m not going to micro-manage them,'" said Tim Evans, a criminal defense lawyer in Fort Worth who used to work with Curry.
“Criminal cases are like snowflakes,” Evans says. “They’re the same generally but case by case they’re different.”
And that’s why, he says, it’s important for voters to consider which candidate will lead the office like Curry.
“The main thing, I think, is are they going be fair and reasonable, and have the courage sometimes to do what might not sound good on the 10 o’clock news,” Evans said.
Tom Wilder, the county’s district clerk, agrees.
“This is such an important post, arguably it’s the most powerful office in the county,” he says. “With the ability to prosecute, or not prosecute, the ability to offer settlements to lawyers on civil lawsuits or not, as well as the inherent political clout that every district attorney has.”
Early voting is underway. Election Day is March 4.