By Holding Craig Watkins in Contempt, Judge Lena Levario Shows She's a Good Democrat. Some Dallas Democrats May Disagree.
So who is this Democrat judge, Lena Levario, who not only stands up to Democratic Party golden boy Craig Watkins, our embattled district attorney, but holds him in contempt of court? Does she not understand the most basic tenet of Dallas County Democratic Party philosophy -- that Dr. King died so that we might all have the right to suck money out of rich white people?
That's really the core allegation against Watkins, who just got his head handed to him in Levario's court on a charge of prosecutorial misconduct. By agreeing to bring criminal charges against a guy as a favor to lawyer Lisa Blue, widow of the late Democratic moneybags Fred Baron, Watkins was just doing what Dallas County Democrats are supposed to do -- kiss up to the money and hope some of it will fall their way. What else was the civil rights movement for?
But Levario, lifelong Democrat, stalwart of the League of United Latin American Citizens, defender of immigrant rights, affirmative action and gender equality -- all that other Democrat stuff besides the money from the rich white peopl-- slammed Watkins in court yesterday, telling him, "All of this evidence makes it smell really bad."
She said in court that Watkins' staff and former staff are probably liars. And as for Watkins himself, whose professional rassling name would be "The Nose Thumber" for his previous treatment of her and her court, she held him in contempt for refusing to answer questions on the basis that he didn't want to. That was some pretty bold nose-thumbing even for The Nose Thumber, but let me tell you something about the county courthouse: No matter what happens, Democrats do not hold Democrats in contempt, nor do Republicans hold Republicans in contempt. But not many Democrats or Republicans are Lena Levario.
Born in Pecos in 1961, daughter of a proud and devoted father who was also a drunk, Levario grew up knowing every coin has two sides. As a child she was a victim of overt racism in Pecos. But in 2003 when Mayor Laura Miller was accused of racism by Hispanic activists over her conflict with former City Manager Ted Benavides, Levario spoke against her own posse:
"I don't think it's right just to go and get somebody because they, she's trying to get rid of people that she thinks are, are lousy people and shouldn't be there," she told an interviewer. "But the question is, yeah, does that mean that she is necessarily racist? I mean, should we keep someone in power that's lousy just because they are a minority? And so, you know. I, I don't know whether LULAC should be, I mean, they basically came out and called her a racist and I don't know if there's enough evidence there to say that she's a racist."
Here's what impresses me even more about that particular interview and maybe this is inside baseball, but one of the people doing the interview was Jose Angel Gutierrez, the patron saint of Latino activism in Texas. I don't think you say that kind of stuff to Jose Angel unless you've got a very stiff backbone.
She cut her lawyer teeth in Dallas as a public defender; read a great profile of her in those years by Rod Davis in D Magazine.
Then she did private practice, then got a judicial appointment by Texas Governor Ann Richards (now dead but eerily alive on Broadway as we see in today's New York Times), then more private practice, and then she was elected to the bench in 2006.
In between there, in 2004, she and former federal prosecutor Terry Hart were appointed as a special panel to investigate the city's unbelievably reprehensible "fake drugs" scandal, in which Dallas cops were deliberately framing Mexican immigrants whom they knew to be totally innocent and sending them to prison in a scam involving large sums of money budgeted for informants. As we saw only a week ago, the Dallas Police Department still has not learned its lesson about lying in court, but you can hardly blame that on Levario and Hart, whose report on fake drugs was a searing indictment of the department and of former Chief Terrell Bolton.
Bolton, the city's first black chief, was ferociously defended by the county's black Democratic establishment, who argued that Martin Luther King Jr. also died so that all Americans, not just privileged white people, would have the right to make money sending innocent Mexicans to prison. The Democratic effort to defend Bolton didn't work, and Bolton was banished, thanks largely to the brave and intelligent work of Hart and Levario.
We could get all psychological here, I guess. Maybe you learn early that life is complicated, if your dad is a tough smart good-looking guy who pushes you to be brave in the face of bigotry, to study hard and make something of yourself, but he also comes home drunk a lot. Or we could not get all psychological and just say this: guys like me, who rag on local Democrats all the time for being feckless and selling their own people down the river need to remember that Lena Levario is a Democrat, too. She's the same kind of Democrats as former Judge John Creuzot and Dallas County Treasurer Joe Wells. The good kind. They do exist. They just get lost in the mayhem sometimes.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.