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Dallas County DA's Office Says Federal Ruling Vindicates D-A Craig Watkins: No Misconduct

BJ Austin

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is asking an appeals court to stop Thursday’s hearing on claims of prosecutorial misconduct against him.  The D-A’s office says a federal judge’s recent ruling vindicates Watkins. 

Al Hill III, an heir to the Hunt Oil fortune, claims Watkins indicted him on mortgage fraud charges as a favor to campaign contributor, attorney Lisa Blue.  Hill and Blue are locked in a court battle over legal fees.   

First Assistant D-A Heath Harris says a motion to stop a misconduct hearing in Judge Lena Levario’s courtroom on Thursday has been filed with the District Court of Appeals in Dallas. Harris also says a federal judge rejected Hill’s claims that prosecutorial misconduct by Watkins negatively affected the outcome of his multi-million dollar legal fee dispute.     

“It didn’t work in the federal courts in regard to this allegation of prosecutorial misconduct," Harris told reporters gathered outside the D-A's office. " If you look at the affidavit, if you look at the findings, she clearly said there is not one iota of evidence that supports prosecutorial misconduct in this case.”  

Harris says Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Martin investigated and took the mortgage fraud case against Hill to the grand jury, not Craig Watkins.

But, Hill’s lawyers say former First Assistant D-A Terri Moore has sworn Watkins personally approved taking the case to the grand jury.  And the lawyers say there is a thread of phone calls between Lisa Blue and Craig Watkins, prior to Hill’s indictment, and a campaign contribution as well.

Heath Harris says this is really about work privilege: a D-A should not be called to testify about his reasons for taking a case to the grand jury for indictment.

“If he takes the stand about this particular indictment, guess where he’s going to be tomorrow:  in the court," Harris said. "We’ve got 17 felony courts."

Watkins’ appeal says a D-A’s privilege with regard to which cases are prosecuted is protected by state law. Hill’s lawyers say Craig Watkins is not above the law and has an obligation to respond to the subpoena under oath. 

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.