5 vying for open Shelby Co. DA spot

SHELBY COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - A civil lawsuit. A Texas ranger investigation. A justice department investigation. A district attorney resignation. It's the elements of a suspenseful book or movie. But none of it is made up.

It's what sets the stage for five candidates wanting to become the next district attorney for Shelby County.

Lynda K. Russell's resignation as Shelby County district attorney came at the height of the Tenaha scandal. It's alleged Russell and other officials committed highway robbery through an improperly run drug interdiction program.

The resignation opened the door for five candidates.

The candidates are not involved directly, but they're aware until the truth is known their integrity is scrutinized closely.

Criminal attorney John R. Smith wrestled with the decision to run. He and his wife's close friendship is now strained.

"As the problems with the district attorney's office and the criminal judicial system as a whole started to evolve I just knew that I could do the job and maybe better than anyone else, so I decided to run," Smith said.

Smith had already been DA for Shelby County. At this stage of his career he hadn't considered returning, but the theme of his favorite painting spoke to him.

"And the name of it is justice," Smith said.

Swift justice is what this criminal attorney is after.

"The first day I took office in 1993 we had a jury trial," Smith said. "The last week I was in office four years later we had a jury trial. In between that four-year period we tried and moved more cases than any other district attorney office in the history of this county."

In addition he wants law and order among those enforcing the law.

Karren Price wants to restore integrity and trust to the office. She's been a Shelby County district attorney too and chose prosecution as her career.

"Given the history and the situation with the caseload at this point and time I think experience counts even more than it ever has and it's because of that I think I'm head and shoulders above anyone else in the race," Price said.

Price is now a college professor but says if she returns to law it's the first order of business to search out any tainted filed in the DA's office.

"To be sure that there is some integrity to what's there," Price said.

Second challenge is to send a clear message out to law enforcement.

"Demanding that they meet a really high standard," Price said.

There are candidates with no ties to the district attorney's office. That's a bonus in the eyes of Cornelia Hartman.

"It's a fresh page for Shelby County," Hartman said.

Hartman has the trust of her pooch Bhangi. She believes she's got it with the voters too. It's something that comes from running a private practice for 16 years.

"I already have a base in the community of trust so I don't think it will be all that hard because I think a lot of times the trust factor is associated with the people," Hartman said.

Next big challenge is getting a hold on the docket.

"I don't see any reason to let an opportunity to have a jury trial go by when we have got 420 on the docket," Hartman said. "Well if they're settled that's one thing. If they're just passed the docket is getting out of control."

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Florence is facing some of that caseload right now. The Republican contender wasn't interviewed for this story as he didn't respond until well after the extended deadline.

Then there's Stephen Shires. He's unopposed in the Democratic primary.

"It's really good cause all the rest of the folks are wondering, have been wondering when their election is," Shires said. "I know when mine is. Mine is in November."

Unlike the other candidates, Shires doesn't talk too much about the problems the DA's office has experienced.

"I'm not a part of any of that and so it's really not something that matters to me," Shires said. "One of the reasons why a lot of people are going to vote for me is because they know I'm trustworthy."

Shires campaigns little tolerance for drug dealers and rehabilitation for addicts. And no matter the crime, Shires wants matters addressed quickly.

"Every case needs attention," Shires said. "It needs to be resolved in a matter that justice dictates and I will do that. I will put the time. I will put the energy to make sure that happens."

No matter how good a lawyer they may be, it's trust and integrity the voters are wanting.

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