FORT WORTH — Tarrant County Tax Assessor/Collector Ron Wright is calling on District Attorney Joe Shannon to step down in the wake of a recent settlement following sexual harassment allegations.
Shannon immediately rejected the notion.
The county paid $375,000 to Sabrina Sabin and her attorney. Sabin is a 44-year-old former assistant prosecutor who accused Shannon, 72, of making sexually suggestive comments to her.
The two sides settled out of court. The county spent an additional $100,000 trying unsuccessfully to keep details of Shannon's case out of the public record.
"The recent release of documents related to the sexual harassment complaint against the District Attorney contained enough tawdriness to send readers running to take a shower," Wright, a fellow Republican, said in a written statement released Wednesday. "Even without the salacious details, the complaint is a sledgehammer pounding the pillars of the Tim Curry Justice Center."
"The accusations and uneasy settlement have cast a pall over county government and have left an unrelenting cloud hanging over the D.A.'s office," Wright continued. "It is a cloud that will unavoidably impact the morale of the office, shake the public's confidence, and encumber the D.A.'s ability to effectively carry out his duties."
During an interview, Wright said he takes no joy in calling for another public official to step down. "There's no benefit to me. There's no upside," he said. "I'm trying to do the right thing for Tarrant County."
"I'm bothered by this, and I think a great many people are bothered by it, and somebody needed to do this," he said.
Wright added that commissioners are bound by the settlement to withhold any public comment, so he felt as if he should speak out "I, too, am a Republican elected official; it's appropriate for me to do it," he said.
Wright said he did not personally know Shannon. The two met once shortly after Wright won election about 18 months ago, he said. Wright said he sent Shannon an e-mail Wednesday warning him he was going to make his feelings public.
"As I have made clear, I have absolutely no intention of resigning," Shannon said in a written statement released late Wednesday.
"This office is not defined by the settlement of one complaint, but by the hard work of our prosecutors," the DA stated. "I will continue to lead this effort."
But a former federal prosecutor with no ties to the case believes Shannon will face difficult times within his office.
"It will greatly affect morale," said Kimberly Priest Johnson, who is now in private practice in Dallas. She does not know Shannon personally, but said the allegations against him make for a difficult workplace environment, particularly for the women within his office.
"I do think he should resign," she said. "Not as much based on legal culpability, but more on his diminished capacity to lead law enforcement in Tarrant County."
That is also Wright's main concern.
"I'm not suggesting he's guilty. I'm not suggesting anybody's guilty. We don't know," said Wright. "Because there's a settlement, there's no real conclusion as far as the truth and facts for the public."
"My hope is Joe Shannon is completely innocent," he said. "I hope he'll put the people of Tarrant County first."