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Dallas D.A. Faces Contempt Charge Today In Court

BJ Austin

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins is scheduled to be in court this morning on a four month-old contempt charge. That’s when the D.A. refused to talk about a fraud case despite the judge’s order to do so.


Judge Lena Levario was hearing a case involving Al Hill III, an heir to Hunt oil money. Hill was indicted for mortgage fraud, denied the charge, and said the D.A. brought it only as a favor to attorney Lisa Blue, a Watkins campaign contributor. To further complicate matters, Blue was suing Hill - her former client -  for millions in legal fees.

Levario ordered Watkins to answer questions under oath, tied to charges of prosecutorial misconduct. He refused, saying his silence was legal because his information was privileged.

Levario: “Mr. Watkins, you’re ordered to answer the questions.”

Watkins: “Judge, I’m going to continue to assert the privilege.”

Levario:“I’m sure your lawyer has advised you. I’m holding you in contempt of court.”

Watkins: “I understand.”

At this morning’s hearing, Wichita Falls Judge Bob Brotherton is expected to consider the Watkins motion to dismiss the case. If it isn’t, the contempt case will proceed.

A lot is at stake here. With Watkins at the top of the Dallas County Democratic Party, the county’s Republican Chairman, Wade Emmert, wants Watkins to go.

“He makes odd decisions about how he runs his office,” says Emmert, “and who he chooses to investigate and who he chooses not to investigate. And then he holds himself to a completely different standard than he would try to hold others to.”

Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing defends Watkins.

“He makes decisions based on what he thinks is right, rather than how this would look politically.”

If Watkins is held in contempt, he could go to a jail. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.