During an evening 60 Minutes episode, a young Tiffany Burks sat with her father and tuned into the story of a wrongfully imprisoned man, finally exonerated after years of incarceration and returning to his life and family. Tiffany recalls this moment vividly–she asked her father how something like wrongful imprisonment could happen in our country, and his response echoed in her mind for decades to come: “Systems fail. In order to change the system, you have to be a part of it.”
Tiffany grew up with a structured upbringing in Oak Cliff, Dallas among a family of six children. Her devoted parents stressed the importance of education throughout her lifetime. “After my father served in the military, he returned to finish high school at the age of nineteen,” Tiffany explained. “Having grown up in segregation, he saw education as the great equalizer… Education was the way to freedom and independence.” Following the example of their parents, Tiffany and all of her siblings went on to obtain college degrees.
“I was always interested in what made people act the way they do,” Tiffany said as she recounted the beginning of her college education pursuing a degree in business from the University of Texas in Austin. She soon realized that business was not the path she wanted to pursue. “I really enjoyed the sociology coursework I came across–it aligned well with my interests,” she recalled. “And that’s what eventually led me to the law.” After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in sociology and government, Tiffany attended Texas Southern University for law school. Criminal law coursework easily became enjoyable, and her father’s words during that 60 Minutes episode years prior continued to motivate her, leading Tiffany to a career in criminal law.
“I initially thought I wanted to work in defense,” Tiffany explained, but during her first year of law school, she interned for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and a peer mentor there urged her to consider a career in criminal prosecution. After that internship, Tiffany realized that her best opportunity to serve and to make an impact on others and on the criminal justice system was by becoming a prosecutor.
Tiffany graduated with her J.D. from Texas Southern University, and after passing the bar exam, Tiffany began her career as an assistant district attorney in Fort Bend County. Shortly thereafter, she returned closer to home to continue her career in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, where she has dutifully served as a prosecutor since. She described her experience being a prosecutor as a Black woman: “Though it may not always seem like it, I am helping people in this role. Any District Attorney’s office needs prosecutors with varied life experiences from varied backgrounds to engage in thoughtful decision-making and to do better for our communities and for people who come in contact with the criminal justice system.”
During her career, Tiffany has worked on a vast variety of cases involving misdemeanors, gangs, firearms, family violence, homicides, and capital murders. She was promoted to Felony Court Chief after nine years of service in Tarrant County. Seven years later, she was promoted to Deputy Chief over the office’s Criminal Division. When asked what her greatest accomplishment in her career has been, Tiffany remarked that she’d like to say it’s her promotion to Deputy Chief–notably, she is the first Black prosecutor to have been promoted to the role in Tarrant County. “Really instead, my greatest achievement is the amount of lives I’ve been able to touch during my career,” she said.
In June of 2021, Tiffany grew concerned with the direction of the District Attorney’s office–morale was low, trust in leadership was beginning to dwindle, and Tiffany found herself beginning to consider the end of her career as a prosecutor in Tarrant County. “I thought I might run for judge or retire and teach once Sharen [Wilson, the current District Attorney’s] term ended,” Tiffany explained. “Then one day in the car on the way home… It hit me. I can do this. I can run for District Attorney. I always felt like I could do this job.”
Tiffany started her run for Tarrant County District Attorney with no prior knowledge about campaigning. She chose a campaign manager, a former prosecutor she worked with at the DA’s office, Angelia Megahan, and the two of them alone began working on Tiffany’s run. “We are thick as thieves,” she added. “We block walk together, we do ads and mailings together… We do it all.” During the democratic primary in March, one of Tiffany’s opponents, Albert Roberts, maintained a campaign that was well-funded and appeared to be well-supported. Tiffany recalled watching his commercials on many mornings leading up to the primaries. But, with only $50,000 and a hard working two-person team, Tiffany far outpaced her opponents in the primary election. She faces republican candidate Phil Sorrels in the general election in November.
Tiffany sees many opportunities for improvement and growth in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. When Tiffany enters the role as District Attorney, she first wants to “right the ship,” by addressing growing internal staffing concerns. She explained that the office has hemorrhaged experience and institutional knowledge within, as many seasoned prosecutors have left their roles. She continued: “Without the right people in the right places, the entire county suffers. We need to ensure our office is prepared so that cases don’t fall through the cracks.”
In addition to the internal office concerns, Tiffany noted some public concerns that are pertinent to Tarrant County residents as well, including the souring relationships between law enforcement officers and citizens. “This is partly because our minority and disadvantaged communities do not feel that police are in their communities to protect and serve them,” Tiffany explained. This struggle is highlighted in the case of the 2019 police shooting which killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home in Fort Worth. A murder case for her death is still yet to be scheduled for trial. “The people here want justice,” Tiffany said of the case. “It is our responsibility to ensure the case reaches an appropriate conclusion.” Tiffany further highlighted the need for proactive solutions: more communication between the county’s police departments and the county’s citizens and more de-escalation training for law enforcement officers. With her extensive twenty-four-year career working within the criminal justice system, Tiffany feels she can be an integral part in rebuilding the bridges of trust between law enforcement and citizens.
Finally, Tiffany discussed growing problems with violence and mental health issues in Tarrant County. An important part of her plans for the District Attorney’s office includes ensuring that the office partners with community liaisons to deal with the challenges that come with homelessness, mental health issues and drug addiction, and their impact on criminal conduct. “We have to take a more proactive approach to these issues in our community,” Tiffany explained. “But we also have to be reactive, in a way, by holding individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system accountable in appropriate ways.”
Tiffany will continue campaigning throughout the fall as she approaches the November election. To conclude, she offered some important advice to women who might also decide to run for public office: “We all feel as though we must wait our turn… But if you feel the time is right, don’t be discouraged. Don’t worry about others. Don’t worry about the money. Just do it.”
To follow Tiffany’s campaign, click here.