Thursday debate schedule in already fiery DA contest - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Thursday debate schedule in already fiery DA contest

It’s already a heated race, but another round of debates tonight could provide yet another fiery display for East Texas voters.

The Tyler Junior College Criminal Justice Student’s Association will hold a debate Thursday night, on day three of early voting for the March primaries. The debate will host two candidates for the Smith County Office of District Attorney, as well as the candidates for the 321ST District Court.

But it’s the race for DA that’s really drawing a lot of attention.

That’s due largely to a heated exchange on Monday at the League of Women Voters forum. During that debate, Smith County District Attorney candidate Austin Reeve Jackson talked about his prior prosecutorial experience in Lubbock County. But incumbent D.A. Matt Bingham fired back, disputing Jackson’s work in Lubbock by reading a letter that seemed to discredit Jackson from the Lubbock County DA.

"I prosecuted for a year. I started in Lubbock County," Jackson explained in the forum. "And in that time I handled cases ranging from misdemeanor to felony and was fortunate enough to work on a capital murder appeal that went to the supreme court."

Bingham then replied, "It appears Mr. Jackson served as intern in juvenile division while he was in school. He never served as an assistant criminal district attorney and wasn't paid by our office. It's signed by district attorney."

Those comments Monday night stemmed from the letter Bingham said he received from Lubbock District Attorney Matt Powell, in regards to Smith County DA candidate Austin Reeve Jackson's standing in 2003 with Lubbock County. That letter states, "he was never an assistant criminal attorney and wasn't paid by our office."

"Being a prosecutor is much different than being a licensed attorney, handling cases, than an intern who is not a lawyer or a third year bar card," Bingham said on Tuesday. "You're a law student at that point without having not passed the bar it's not the same thing."

Jackson countered that he never claimed he was a paid employee in Lubbock, but instead that he had many of the same experiences by using a temporary license.

A Texas Tech University newsletter from 2003 shows Jackson was part of a clinic, similar to an internship, where he, "prosecuted juvenile delinquency cases in Lubbock."

"They're given a temporary license to go in and practice law and that's exactly what I did," Jackson said. "I tried jury cases, I represented Lubbock County in court, on an almost a daily basis, I worked in an office, in a district attorney's office, I mean, I handled cases on behalf of Lubbock County."

But in an email blast Bingham received, sent out by Jackson’s campaign, it states, "Jackson served as a prosecutor in Lubbock County and Gregg County."

Lubbock County Assistant DA Wade Jackson, who has worked there since 1995, also confirmed Jackson was, "never an assistant DA."

"I prosecuted on behalf of Lubbock County. I walked into court and tried a jury trial as the person representing the Lubbock County District Attorney's office. That's how simple this is," Reeve said.

But Jackson said his campaign isn’t based on experience, but instead, is based on budget accountability. He added that one of the main reasons he is running is due budget increases under Bingham.

"It's going to buy things like a fleet of vehicles for his personal use,” Jackson said. “Seven new Tahoe's for he and his investigators to drive back and forth to lunch during the week. Meanwhile our sheriff's department doesn't have the vehicles that they need.”

Jackson cited a budget increase of nearly 50 percent over the past ten years as a primary driver for his race.

"It has increased 1.4 million, in increments added together over ten years, but we've given back 1.488 million dollars, so our budget effectively has decreased 88,000 dollars in total over a ten year period of time," Bingham explained.

Bingham also added that investigators are on call 24 hours a day, saying those cars are for work, whenever that may be. He also added that the vehicles were paid for without tax dollars.

"I am so proud of the fact that we have taken an aggressive stance on taking illegal money, money derived from illegal criminals, and seized it," Bingham said. "And over the period of 10 years I've given back to law enforcement over $2 million in money I've seized and the percentage of money that my office gets, we have turned that back to law enforcement and to this department and not had to go through the tax payers to ask for the money. For instance, those Tahoes."

Thursday night’s debate will take place in the Apache rooms of the Rogers Student Center at Tyler Junior College. It is expected to last from 7 P.M. to 9 P.M.

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