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story.lead_photo.caption Cass County District Attorney Courtney Shelton poses for a photo. (Photo by KATE STOW)

In 2018, Cass County residents elected their first female District Attorney: Courtney Holland Shelton.

Female DAs in Texas are a rarity. The first one took office in 1956

It's only been in the last 20 years that the number of female DAs in Texas has grown to approximately 30 in its 254 counties.

In 2009, Courtney left the Bowie County Public Defenders Office to serve as Assistant DA to Cass County DA Randal Lee. When she told Lee she would be running against him in 2018, he fired her.

She became even more determined to win the election.

"I was preparing for the best and the worst at the same time. I knew we may have to live on my husband's salary alone for a while," she said. "It (winning) was a little surreal. I was the underdog. Randal was from here, he's a nice guy, and Cass County was used to having a man in power."

Courtney tallied 55% of the votes in the March 2018 election — or 365 more votes than Lee.

"Faith is a big part of my life, and it's grown stronger in the past year," she said. "It was a faith-based decision to run. I absolutely love this job."

Courtney graduated from Pleasant Grove High School in Texarkana. After graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, she received her law degree from Baylor Law School. She is married to Lucas Shelton from McLeod, Texas. She has a 5-year-old son and a 12-year-old stepson. Lucas is a firefighter with the Texarkana Fire Department and has a construction business on the side.

Being a woman in charge in a male-dominated judicial system has been challenging, but Courtney quickly gained the respect of the men she had to work with.

"From the beginning I let it be known that I wasn't going to be a pushover," she said. "I had been working with these men for a long time. They know I'm fair and don't take sides, and I have a strong work ethic, which they respect."

Atlanta is the biggest city in Cass County, and Mayor Travis Ransom counts himself among Courtney's "fans."

"Courtney is an aggressive prosecutor and efficient case manager," he said.

As DA, Courtney is the chief law enforcement officer in Cass County, which means she is over the police chiefs and officers in the county.

"The toughest part of being a female DA is telling the police chiefs what to do," she said. "We are all on the same team and have the same goal, but I have to tell them what I need to be able to prosecute a case. It's a delicate balance when you're dealing with a lot of law enforcement agencies."

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