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Sorrells keeps Tarrant County DA’s office in Republican hands

Tarrant County Phil Sorrells
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Phil Sorrells speaks to supporters at the Tarrant County Republican watch party Tuesday evening.

Phil Sorrells’ victory will keep the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in Republican hands for another four years.

As of 11:30 p.m. Sorrells had received approximately 53% of the vote against Democrat Tiffany Burks, with 92% of voting centers reporting. He will replace outgoing District Attorney Sharen Wilson. Wilson made a surprise announcement in November 2021 that she would not seek re-election.

The longtime Republican Tarrant County Criminal Court judge ran on issues like immigration, violent crime and supporting police.

“We have a lot to do in the DA’s office,” Sorrells said at a Republican Election Night watch party in downtown Fort Worth. “There are a lot of criminals out on bond who haven’t faced the consequences of their conduct.”

Among the immediate priorities for Sorrells: working to decrease the case backlog in Tarrant County courts. After county commissioners approved spending $1 million on visiting judges to help speed the process, Sorrells told the Report he intends to staff more courts in the county.

“The elderly crime unit, they’re not assigned to a particular court,” he said in a late September interview. “So they can go to another court and try their cases. The Crimes Against Children Unit, the Sexual Assault Unit, the Gang Unit, there are so many different units that can staff different courts so we can staff more courts than we currently have just to get things going.”

He reiterated that commitment Tuesday night, and said opening up more courts will be one of his first acts as district attorney.

Getting a handle on the backlog will also help reduce crime overall, Sorrells said. He pointed to overcrowding in the county jail right and the resulting release of people accused of misdemeanors or nonviolent crimes while they await their trials. Sorrells said those releases can make people feel as though there won’t be punishment for their crimes.

He has also been a proponent of making it harder for those arrested to bail out. On his website, he states that “violent criminals awaiting trial are roaming our streets, committing more heinous acts.”

Crimes against people increased 14% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2021, according to the Fort Worth Police Department’s 2022 first quarter crime report. The report does not measure how many of those crimes were committed by people out on bail.

Sorrells’ win came on a night that was largely successful in the eyes of the Tarrant County Republican Party, which saw the majority of its candidates elected to local office. During an Election Night party at The Ashton Depot, Sorrells spoke alongside his fellow Republican candidates about the results and what they mean for the future of Tarrant County.

“I think (Wilson) has done a good job with the programs she’s put forward, and I wouldn’t foresee getting rid of any of those,” Sorrells said. “Maybe expand upon them.”

As results continued to trickle in, Burks said she felt the scales tipping in her Republican rival’s favor.

“That’s democracy,” Burks said.

Burks said she does not have any regrets and put everything on the campaign trail.

“I’ve always said that the citizens of Tarrant County should be allowed to pick their candidates and whoever is going to lead them,” Burks said. “Even though we may not be able to put this in the win column, it’s still a win for me.”

On the whole, the district attorney elect has previously stated he will keep much the same in the county office. He received an endorsement from Wilson early in the race, and praised her leadership through two terms in office.

Sorrells led his Democrat rival in fundraising throughout the race, largely thanks to support from big-name donors like Robert Patton, a Fort Worth oil and gas investor and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and several political action committees.

He also garnered support from Virginia-based PAC Protecting Americans Project Action Fund, which paid for ads throughout October and November. The PAC contributed hundreds of thousands to conservative attorney candidates across the county, including in races in Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Despite the large spending in the race, however, turnout remained low. Many voters told the Report they showed up at the polls for the governor’s race and Texas House races only.

Voters Melody Moon, 31, and Olivia Kirby, 21, said they came to vote at the Como Community Center to dispel the notion that younger residents don’t participate in the democratic process. They specifically had their eyes on higher level races instead of district attorney or county judge. Voters at other places throughout Tarrant County echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve looked at some (local races), but quite honestly, I don’t trust any politician,” Kyle Carr, 67, said at a polling place in White Settlement. “I don’t care which side of the fence they’re on. They’ve not done anything to earn our trust. I don’t really know what their motivation is for some of them.”

Sorrells said despite the low voter turnout, he’s committed to serving every resident in Tarrant County, regardless of if they voted for him this election.

“There’s over 2 million people in our county … We care about every citizen in our county, and we’re gonna work to keep our community safe,” Sorrells said.

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative journalism. Reach her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org.

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative journalism. Reach her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org for more stories by Emily Wolf click here.