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Local Government Officials Stay Silent On a ‘Potentially Embarrassing’ Case

By Jack Douglas Jr. & Jason Allen, CBS 11 News
(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - Tarrant County officials have, so far, spent more than a half-million taxpayer dollars to settle a claim with an assistant prosecutor, and then to try to keep details of that claim hidden from the public.

A CBS 11 News investigation has found that the county has paid $520,000 in a case where prosecutor Sabrina Sabin initially accused several people in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, including DA Joe Shannon, of “workplace harassment and retaliation.”

Shannon declined CBS 11’s request for an interview. Instead, he sent a statement that said: “Since there was a no-fault settlement reached, as well as an agreement to not discuss details nor disparage anyone, it would be improper for this office to elaborate on this matter.

Sabrina Sabin has also declined multiple requests for an interview.

With virtually no public discussion in open court, members of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court on Sept. 25 approved a “no-fault” settlement with Sabin, giving her $300,000 and her lawyer $75,000. In return, Sabin agreed to drop her complaints and, among other things, relinquish “any and all voice recordings, video recordings, e-mails, text messages, written or recorded statements, photographs …diaries …and other documents purportedly relating to or supporting any claim.”

Court records show approved payments go beyond just the settlement, including:
· $55,000 for a private consulting firm to investigate Sabin’s complaints;
· $40,000 for an outside law firm to help with the settlement;
· And $50,000 to yet another law firm to fight media requests for information about the settlement.

READ DETAILS OF NO-FAULT SETTLEMENT BETWEEN TARRANT COUNTY AND SABRINA SABIN BELOW:

At the time of the settlement, County Administrator G.K. Maenius told reporters no one was admitting fault. Maenius said at the time that the county felt it would cost more to try the case in court than it would to settle with Sabin.

Maenius declined interview requests for this report.

County officials have argued to the Texas Attorney General’s Office that the case “is not of legitimate concern to the public,” and includes documents that contain “potentially embarrassing and intimate and personal information.”

The amount of public money involved has amazed some local lawyers.

“A half-million dollars indicates a serious matter,” said Dallas lawyer Shirley Baccus-Lobel, a former chief federal prosecutor. “This is a young woman, she’s a lawyer …she has her future in front of her …she had to have some courage to stand up to whatever the nature of the claim was,” Baccus-Lobel said.

Dallas lawyer Bob Hinton, who specializes in the public’s right to know what government leaders do, said he is surprised by how little Tarrant County officials have said about the harassment claim, and how much money they have spent to fight the media’s open records requests.

“It sure smells bad …particularly when you’re hiring law firms…spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep it quiet,” Hinton said.

READ TARRANT COUNTY’S APPEAL TO TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL TO DENY MEDIA ACCESS TO FURTHER DETAILS OF THE CASE:

Baccus-Lobel said she is also disturbed by how little the public has been allowed to know about the harassment case.

“When you have a serious claim made by a person, you want the door opened to that so you can rectify it or do something about it,” she said.

If you want to reach CBS 11′s Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr., you can email him at jdouglas@cbs.com. If you want to reach CBS 11′s Jason Allen, you can email him at jmallen@cbs.com.

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