Tyler attorney Alicia Cashell Barkley declared her candidacy for Smith County district attorney on Monday, making a contested race for an elected position some people, including the current district attorney, thought would draw only one candidate.
Barkley will face Jacob Putman, who declared his candidacy in February, in the March 6, 2018, Republican primary. No Democrats declared for the race, meaning whoever wins the primary will go on to become Smith County DA.
"I believe that the people of Smith County deserve to have a choice in the leadership of an office that, literally, makes life and death decisions," Ms. Barkley said in a prepared statement Monday afternoon.
Ms. Barkley said it is a tremendous responsibility to represent the victims of crime, to work with law enforcement and to protect the safety of the community.
"It is a job that requires insight and sound judgment on every single case, but particularly those involving violence," she said.
Barkley is a family law attorney based in Tyler. She practices in Smith, Henderson and Cherokee counties, and has more than 20 years of experience as an attorney.
It had appeared as if there was going to be only one candidate on the ballot for Smith County district attorney. In fact, current Smith County DA Matt Bingham recently said Assistant DA Jacob Putman would be the next Smith County DA.
Putman recently came under scrutiny for his handling of a 2016 plea deal that allowed a man who beat a Smith County sheriff's deputy to go free after one year's jail time. The man is now accused of killing a state trooper on Thanksgiving Day.
Putman said he reduced the charge at the deputy's request and said he believed he had the authority to do so without his boss signing off on the deal.
In her statement, Ms. Barkley cited her experience as a Smith County prosecutor, longtime attorney and business owner among her qualifications for the position.
As a Smith County prosecutor, she worked misdemeanor cases for five months and felony cases for more than seven years.
She said that through those experiences and being present at crime scenes and in ride-alongs she learned how to be a better prosecutor and developed a great appreciation for law enforcement and a compassion for victims.
"That person who was victimized -- they are more than just a name on an indictment," she said. "They (or their families) have to try to pick up the pieces and move forward after what is often a lifechanging experience. How we prosecute that offender can have a huge effect for that victim, their family and for our community."
Ms. Barkley alluded to the questions about her opponent's decision- making in her statement.
"The elected district attorney must have the sound judgment and the foresight to recognize that releasing a violent offender will have future consequences, and that those consequences can be dire," she said. "The safety of our community is at stake when prosecutors make bad decisions. Law enforcement lives are at stake when prosecutors make bad decisions. Plea deals that give violent offenders another opportunity to attack law enforcement should never be an option."
She said she learned to prosecute in an administration in which the 2016 plea deal never would have happened.
Ms. Barkley said, if elected, her goals would be twofold: Provide the leadership and judgment to run the office so that its primary focus is the safety and protection of Smith County; and rebuild the relationship with law enforcement that she experienced as a prosecutor.
"I believe Smith County deserves seasoned leadership, sound judgment and proven experience," she said. "I am the only candidate with those qualities. I ask for your support, your vote and your prayers during this campaign."