FORT WORTH (CN) - Calling a sexual harassment lawsuit against Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon "salacious," with "enough tawdriness to send readers running to take a shower," the county tax assessor, a fellow Republican, called for Shannon to resign.
Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth, settled a harassment complaint against Shannon, at a cost to the county of more than $468,000. He was accused of sexually harassing a prosecutor, Sabrina Sabin. The county released details of the settlement last week.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright then called for Shannon's resignation: "After a great deal of thought, and believing this is in the best interest of the people of Tarrant County, I am calling on District Attorney Joe Shannon to step down," Wright said in a statement. "As a fellow Republican elected official, I take no joy in this. In fact, it pains me to do it, but I believe it is the right thing to do.
"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. Even without the salacious details, the complaint is a sledgehammer pounding the pillars of the Tim Curry Justice Center."
Shannon rejected the request.
The county agreed to a $300,000 settlement with Sabin in September 2012, with another $75,000 to her attorney in legal fees. Sabin claimed she was retaliated against for complaining about a hostile work environment.
In personal journal entries first reported by the Star Telegram, Sabin accused Shannon of touching her and making sexual comments.
"Joe would constantly make comments about my breasts and tell me he would like to see them, touch them," Sabin wrote, according to the Star-Telegram. "He would say things like, 'If you ever decide to surprise me and show them to me, no one has to know.'
"What the hell was I supposed to say to that? I knew that if I said anything or made an issue out of being sexually harassed, that I would possible loose [sic] my job or that he would make my life miserable. I just kept quite [sic] and continued to focus on doing my job well."
Sabin, 44, has been married for 20 years and has two children.
She wrote that things became "uncomfortable" and "at times, unbearable" under Shannon once she moved up into the position of economics crime prosecutor.
"Things started with comments about how nice I looked, and progressively got worse," she wrote in her journal. "Comments about how my ass looked good to telling me, 'You know I love you, don't you?' to things like, 'You keep everything we talk about between us.'"
At one point, Sabin wrote, Shannon told her, "'You're going to get yourself f----d if your [sic] not careful.'"
Under terms of the settlement, Sabin agreed to drop employment discrimination charges with the Fort Worth Human Relations Commissions and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She agreed to leave the office by Dec. 31, 2012.
Tarrant County then spent an additional $100,000 in a failed attempt to keep details of the case out of the public record, the Star-Telegram reported.
That, apparently, was the straw that broke the county assessor's back.
"County Commissioners took the fiscally responsible approach and agreed to a settlement that precludes a lawsuit that could have cost taxpayers millions," Tax Assessor Wright said in his statement. "But it had the unfortunate affect of limiting what commissioners can say about it. This is unfair to them and to the public, which is left with no clear determination of the truth.
"To suggest that this leaves the District Attorney and his office in a bad light would be a gross understatement. The optics (how this is seen by the average voter) are terrible: the top law enforcement official in the county embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that costs county taxpayers a half million dollars. Politically, the optics could scarcely get much worse.
"I am not judging guilt or innocence because, like everyone else, I can't. The settlement leaves the matter in a perpetual state of he said/she said. In terms of revealing the truth, the settlement settled nothing. All it did is minimize the financial damage to the county, and for that the Commissioners Court deserves our thanks. It is, after all, all of us who would have had to pay to defend a lawsuit.
"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. 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. That cloud will not go away as long as Mr. Shannon is in office. ...
"He vigorously denies the allegations made against him. He tells us he did not agree to the settlement, but did he take any action to prevent it? Did he demand an opportunity to clear the air and his name before the public or in a court of law?"
Shannon joined the District Attorney's Office in 1972, and became the chief of the criminal division before he left for private practice in 1978, according to his website.
He rejoined the office in 1999 as chief of the economic crime unit and was appointed district attorney after then-District Attorney Tim Curry died in 2009.
Shannon is a former president of the Tarrant County Bar Association and the Tarrant County Family Law Bar Association and is an adjunct professor at the Texas Wesleyan School of Law.
It was a rough week for prosecutors in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. On Thursday, masked gunmen shot to death Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse as he went to work. Colleagues believe it was work-related. Kaufman county is just east of Dallas.
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