Dallas County

Oh, Brother, Between Hawk and the Democrats, This Is Getting Knee-Deep

UPDATE: Schutze is taking time off this week, so with Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk back in treatment for depression, the editors thought you might enjoy this piece he wrote in October, the last time Hawk was hospitalized.

Leave it to local Democrats to play the Susan Hawk mentally ill district attorney story exactly wrong. I swear the local Dallas County Democratic Party could turn the second coming into a debate about immigration.

Hawk, as you know, is our recently elected Republican DA who went on a covered-up secret hiatus from the campaign trail for drug rehab, then after getting elected took a secret covered-up two-month unpaid leave from her duties for some other form of personal problem which she and her political consultant have characterized as profound depression, attention deficit disorder and paranoia.

Let’s put Mari Woodlief, the political consultant, aside for the moment. Right now Woodlief’s personal credibility is at a point where I would think she’d have to get somebody else to call her dog.

Let’s talk about Hawk. Speaking of her mental health issues, Hawk told The Dallas Morning News and NBC5 this week, “I refuse to be ashamed.” What I wish I could say is that nobody asked her to be ashamed. The public’s interest and concern should never have been with shame. The only public issue ought to be the way the District Attorney’s Office has been running since Hawk took over. And I will get to that.

But first I have to concede that, yes, unbelievably enough, a day before Hawk’s bathetic tell-all with the News and the TV station, Dallas County Democratic Chairwoman Carol Donovan released a written statement — a written statement, no less — calling on Hawk to resign because in an earlier interview with D Magazine she had admitted having entertained thoughts of suicide.

These are Democrats! These are my people. We’re the squishy empathetic ones, the people who feel your pain. We don’t treat mental illness like a scarlet letter, for God’s sake.

We’re the ones who want to talk to you about absolutely everything, even wrinkles and arm fat. We don’t condemn people for bringing a painful personal moment into the daylight. Do we?

Donovan said in her statement: “Just weeks ago, our top law enforcement official was involuntarily committed after threatening to kill herself.

“In view of the facts that have just recently been revealed, Susan owes it to herself, not to mention her nearly 500 employees and the taxpayers, to resign and to concentrate on getting well.”

Concentrate on getting well. Oh, sure. You’re the Democratic Party, and your big concern is on her getting well. (Note to Woodlief: Don’t ask Donovan to call your dog, either.)

But now here’s the context: The local Democrats have ringed the castle by night with torches in hand, shouting, “Susan’s suicidal, Susan’s suicidal!” Hawk is up high on the parapets doing a Nathan Hale pose, saying, “I shall not be ashamed.” Woodlief is busy telling everybody not to be sexist. And all of that is just utter and complete misdirection from the real issues.

The important revelation in the D Magazine piece was that Hawk’s drug and mental health problems, a secret to the rest of us, were common currency in the courthouse gossip mill from fairly early on. The anecdotal evidence, as provided by fired employees and some acquaintances, is that her paranoia was driven by a fear that her problems would go public.

And of course they did. She’s the damn DA. Her efforts to keep her problems a secret, aided and abetted by Woodlief, were basically stupid. 

Remember that Hawk was willing to go to some lengths to protect her secrets, including summarily firing several people, some of whom had been trusted personal associates. Two of those fired persons have said they were fired to cover up financial improprieties. Trying to keep secrets by firing the people you think know the secrets is also stupid.

Hawk is sticking by the firings of people who knew about money, saying that on those days she knew what she was doing. She has apologized and offered a job back to another guy, saying she was ill and didn’t know what she was doing that day. I guess she kept a chart.

The question here is not about her illness or shouldn’t be. It’s about the way she ran the office. Exactly how much personal vulnerability and desperation can you have, for whatever reason, and still be the DA?

Let’s imagine, for example, that I was a defense attorney representing a client. My client didn’t have much of a defense. But I knew all Hawk’s secrets. You don’t think I might have dropped a couple hints, like, “Been on any good trips lately, Susan?” Wink-wink.

The drug issue comes closer to a legitimate public concern than the depression. But in both cases, it’s not so much the issues themselves as Hawk’s willingness, again abetted by Woodlief, to do whatever she had to do to cover them up. That’s where things got scary.

I firmly believe that’s all we would be talking about if the local Democrats had not called on Hawk to quit because she thought about suicide. Talk about tossing her a nice slow pitch right up the middle. Yeah, and when I saw that quote about, “I refuse to be ashamed,” I heard the satisfying crack of ball against bat. I have to respect her for that. At least she can hit the easy ones.

I read stuff like that about the Dallas Democrats, and I don’t know what to do. Is there still a local Green Party you can join? Whigs?

District attorney is a tough, important job. The DA’s Office needs a tough leader who has integrity and backbone. That’s the debate we need to get to. We can only keep trying.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

Latest Stories