Smith County Republican District Attorney candidate Jacob Putman, left, and Alicia Cashell Barkley are pictured at a Meet the Candidates Forum on January 11, 2018. The Q&A was held at the Hollytree Country Club. JESSICA PAYNE/STAFF

The conversation was heated at the Smith County Republican Party's monthly meeting as Alicia Cashell Barkley and Jacob Putman each made their case to be nominated for Smith County district attorney.

Ms. Barkley on Thursday emphasized her experience and record of aggressive prosecution, pointing to eight years as an assistant district attorney with Smith County, and her 15 years since practicing family law. She said she filed her candidacy "because I care about Smith County."

Putman said he grew up in East Texas, and has wanted to prosecute for many years. He said in the nine years he has spent prosecuting for the county since law school, he has proven himself in the field, saying, "Your job is to see that justice is done."

Ms. Barkley's main contention against her opponent was in reference to how he handled the 2015 case of Dabrett Black, a man charged with assaulting a Smith County deputy and attempting to take his weapon, which was caught on video. Putman eventually charged the man with misdemeanor assault, recommending a one-year sentence. Black was eventually released from custody, and ended up fatally shooting a DPS trooper in 2017. Ms. Barkley said the trooper's widow contacted her, and asked her to run so Putman would not get the nomination for DA.

"I want for us to never have to explain ourselves due to lack of policy understanding or not understanding how to prosecute a case," Ms. Barkley said.

Putman responded that he regretted the decision he made, but that not knowing the severity of Black's mental illness, he felt he made the best decision he could at the time, and that his overall reputation as a tough prosecutor could speak for itself. He also pointed to his many endorsements, including by the Fraternal Order of Police, former state Sen. Kevin Eltife, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, and state Rep. Cole Hefner.

The candidates broadly agreed on questions regarding the current adequate staff, though Putman said he believed it important that Smith County do more to retain experienced prosecutors. They also mostly agreed on streamlining the court to give defendants speedy trials, reforming the grand jury system, and a broad philosophy of aggressive law and order.

After the two DA candidates debated, three candidates for district clerk spoke for three minutes each: Penny Clarkson, Theresa "Terry" Morrow, and Dawn Coleclasure. Each emphasized the major project of digitizing the county court system, and of training its employees on new technological developments.

Early voting for the primary will be from Feb. 20-March 2, and the primary election will be on March 6.

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