Craig Watkins' Contempt Battle a Silly Distraction in Scary Times
I'm scared. One, I'm scared because of what's going on in Kaufman County. Two, I'm even more scared because of what's going on here, which seems to be one big stupid-fest.
You will remember, perhaps, that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins brought criminal charges last year against Al Hill III, a rich guy, for faking up a loan document. The case felt weird from the beginning because Hill didn't profit. Nobody lost a dime.
Hill then brought charges against Watkins for faking up the charges against him as a favor to Lisa Blue, a rich lawyer, who was trying to get money out of Hill for fees. A judge asked Watkins under oath if that's what he did -- brought charges against the rich guy to help the rich lawyer get money out of him. Watkins refused to answer.
Watkins said it was illegal for the judge to try to get a district attorney to talk about how or why he did what he did. But Watkins had already allowed his own staff of assistant district attorneys to talk about how and why he did what he did, so the judge said Watkins had forfeited his right not to talk about it. The judge found Watkins in contempt and threw out the charges against the rich guy.
Watkins demanded a hearing on the contempt charge, which hasn't happened yet, but he did get pissed off in front of the TV cameras last week and called the whole thing "smoke and mirrors."
In the meantime, Texas Lawbook has reported that the Eastern District of Texas of the U.S. Justice Department has an "extremely serious" and "very active" criminal investigation of Watkins under way, based on the rich guy/rich lawyer matter. So that turns the worm over a whole other time.
Maybe Watkins' big high-horse argument about the courts interfering with the operations of a district attorney was the real smoke and mirrors. Maybe the real reason he refused to talk in court was to avoid providing information under oath that would help the feds make a case against him.
That part of it took an increased odor of fishiness when the rich lawyer, Lisa Blue, took the Fifth on all of it. What's she got to take Fifth about? If it's the federal investigation she took the Fifth for, doesn't Watkins have the same Fifth? But instead of taking the Fifth, he got on his high horse and refused to say anything. So now we have fishy smoke and mirrors on top of smoke and mirrors.
Yesterday Watkins filed a notice with the court where he was found in contempt, saying he is going to appeal the tossing out of his criminal case against the rich guy. OK, please bear with me.
For Watkins to appeal his criminal case against the rich guy, he must appeal the tossing out of it. See what I mean: he has to go to the appeals court and say, "That judge shouldn't have tossed out my case just because I refused to answer her questions in court about blah-blah-blah."
So doesn't the appeals court have to ask, "What was the blah-blah-blah?" Then doesn't Watkins or somebody have to say, "It was about blah-blah-blah." And then the court or somebody says, "How do we know it wasn't really about the federal blah-blah-blah?"
Then Watkins get pissed, or perhaps I should say he gets re-pissed. He re-refuses to answer, so the appeals court finds him in re-contempt. Then he runs for re-election.
Is this pretty much everything that the district attorney of Dallas County will be doing for the better part of the year? In light of everything else going on in Texas right now with law enforcement and district attorneys, is there not some reasonable way unwind it?
Tell me again what it's about? The rich guy overstated his assets on a loan document, but then he paid back the loan immediately when the error was pointed out.
Would it be possible -- obviously I'm not a lawyer, so I'm just tossing this out as a layman -- for Watkins to make the contempt thing go away by pleading to some lesser offense? Instead of contempt of court, could he plead guilty to simple disdain?
Could we say that, instead of taking a bribe from the rich lawyer, he was just being nice to her? To keep critics at bay, maybe he should be found guilty of something a little worse than just being nice but still well within the bounds of clay feet and a fallible human nature, like sucking up to her. Perhaps the court could toss in another item for him to be found also guilty of, like "happily inserting himself into a dispute between a rich guy and a rich lawyer so maybe not being the sharpest knife in the drawer."
Do you think Watkins might be willing to make a statement to the effect that the rich guy, rather than committing fraud on his loan document, was just being a bullshit artist?
Is there some way to make this entire asinine farce go away so that the office of the district attorney of the county of Dallas could address itself in a wholehearted and focused way to the very serious challenges facing us in these times?
Because, otherwise, you know what all of this looks like? It looks like Mongol Hordes at the gates of the city while the champions who are supposed to defend us are running around the coliseum goosing each other and pulling each other's pigtails. The stupider, the scarier.
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.