Sharen Wilson’s announcement that she would not be seeking another term as Tarrant County district attorney has left the county’s chief law enforcement position up for grabs.
Three Republicans are vying to succeed Wilson, who was elected in 2014, and become their party’s nominee. Three Democrats are also running for the position.
Early voting starts on Monday, Feb. 14. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1. To find more information about polling places and voting by mail, visit Tarrant County’s elections website.
Elected for four-year terms, the district attorney manages the county’s prosecutor’s office, works with law enforcement to investigate alleged crimes and oversees a civil division that provides legal advice to county officials. Wilson earned an annual salary of over $200,000 during her time in office.
Candidates’ agendas place an emphasis on reducing crime rates in Tarrant County and addressing election integrity, as well as the number of backlogged cases created by COVID-19 restrictions.
The Fort Worth Report spoke with the candidates to learn more about their goals if elected as district attorney.
State Rep. Matt Krause, 41, has served in the Legislature since 2013. Originally running for Texas Attorney General, the constitutional attorney and banker dropped out and was encouraged to run instead for district attorney after Wilson suggested he would be a potential great fit to succeed her in this position, he said.
Wilson has not endorsed Krause nor any other candidate for her job.
If elected, Krause said, he wants to focus on border security and what he describes as the resulting human, sex and drug trafficking that have spilled over from there.
“We’re seeing what happens at the border, doesn’t stay at the border,” the lawmaker said. “The next Tarrant County DA is going to have to be proactive and on top of that to make sure we’re keeping our community safe.”
Krause also said election integrity would be a priority. He said remaining proactive will make sure that voting is easier, and cheating harder.
“You can’t have the next Tarrant County DA be timid about prosecuting those cases, because the integrity of the ballot box goes to the heart of our constitutional republic, our representative form of government,” Krause said.
For more information about Krause’s campaign, visit mattkrause.org or you can reach him at 817-203-4244.
Phil Sorrells, 57, is a fifth-generation Texan and has served as judge of Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 10 for 25 years. Before being elected as a judge, he was an assistant district attorney under Tim Curry, who served as district attorney from 1972 until 2009.
“When (Wilson) announced that she was going to retire, it was important to determine who’s going to take that seat and who’s to run the district attorney’s office. And I loved my job, but I felt like I wanted to make a bigger difference,” he said.
Supporting law enforcement is among the candidate’s priorities. Sorrells also wants to clear the backlog of cases resulting from COVID-19 restrictions, which prevented in-person proceedings and jury trials.
“COVID restrictions have wrecked the criminal justice system for almost a year. The courts were unable to hold in-person proceedings. We couldn’t have a jury trial,” Sorrells said. “What resulted in a lot of that was that people were let out on low bail amounts… so we have a lot of criminals roaming our streets that we have to get back into the court system and get those cases resolved.”
If elected, Sorrells also wants to tackle election integrity and create a task force to prosecute those who cheat the system.
“We want to get them off our rolls. We don’t want to have the opportunity for them to vote and then have an impact on our election,” Sorrells said.
Mollee Westfall, 52, is an attorney with 25 years of experience working in criminal justice. Westfall started working at the Tarrant County’s district attorney’s office in 1996 as a misdemeanor prosecutor before moving her way up to felony prosecutor, where she tackled child abuse cases.
In 2007, she was elected as a judge of the 371st Criminal District Court and supervised programs such as addiction re-entry, high-risk probation and intimate partner violence.
“The district attorney’s office gives you the ability to work for public safety in a very direct way. The criminal justice system is really big and complicated and it takes a specialist — someone who has a serious depth of experience — to step into that role and to do it well,” she said.
If elected, Westfall said her first priority will be to work on reducing violent crime in Tarrant County by holding people accountable. She also wants to retain and train assistant district attorneys to have an effective district attorney team.
She also wants to continue to focus resources on specialized units that prosecute elder abuse and crime, sexual assault and human trafficking.
“What I’ve learned is accountability is key and the courts are part of holding people accountable but the DA’s office is an even bigger part,” Westfall said. “I know how to bring that accountability and change people’s behavior.”
Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.