Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Wichita County District Attorney Declines Prosecuting Tarrant County District Attorney

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Controversial Campaign Contributions. Why Doesn't This Get Aired? 

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On February 22, 2017 Wichita County Criminal District Attorney Maureen Shelton wrote a letter to Judge Jack McGaughey declining prosecution of Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson. (media.star-telegram.com/static/media/judgeletter.pdf) The complaint and investigation revolved around an email Sharen Wilson sent to her employees asking for their personal email addresses (media.star-telegram.com/static/media/wilsonemail.pdf) and then sending emails to those personal email addresses asking for contributions between $100 and $1,000. (media.star-telegram.com/static/media/wilsoninvitation.pdf)

Sharen Wilson's campaign filings show at least 28 employees directly contributed to her campaign. (access.tarrantcounty.com/content/dam/main/elections/ce/2017/WilsonSharen_011217_COH.pdf)

It is impossible to calculate all the indirect donations such as the $5,000 from John Newbern, whose son John W. Newbern III works for the Tarrant County District Attorney. (salaries.texastribune.org/tarrant-county/john-w-newbern-iii/1088542/)


The controversy centers around Penal Code Title 8 - Offenses against public information, Chapter 39 Abuse of Office. Section 39.09 says a public servant commits and offense if with the intent to obtain a benefit, he uses information for a nongovernmental purpose that he has access to be means of his office or employment and has not been made public. 

While Maureen Shelton suggested that prosecution was not warranted because there was "insufficient evidence of criminal intent,"  that suggestion is in congruent with a law that only requires intent "to receive a benefit." The email asking for donations is evidence of the intent to obtain a benefit. 

Whether or not Maureen Shelton made the right decision, the allegation, investigation, and outcome require taxpayers and voters to consider how prosecution misconduct is investigated in Texas. It may be asking too much to have one prosecutor investigate another, without a specialized task force such as the Criminal Investigations Division or Internal Affairs Division of police departments. These are questions to be raised by constituents to their local senators and for attorneys to raise with the State Bar. Ultimately, everyone in Texas deserves fair treatment under the law. 

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