Belo Attempts to Break News One Week Late; Lawyer Cites "Cloud of Suspicion" Surrounding West-Watkins Relationship

For those who didn't read our cover story last week, the Office of the Attorney General made a second attempt on February 23 to lend a helping hand to District Attorney Craig Watkins in a criminal investigation of the Dallas County constables. In August 2009, Watkins said, um, no thanks. This time, the OAG got a taste of what it's like trying to get a response from Watkins as a reporter. The DA simply hasn't responded.

Update: Watkins has responded through spokesperson Jamille Bradfield. For the record, we e-mailed OAG spokesperson Jerry Strickland on March 1 asking for a copy of the letter, which we knew about independently. Strickland told us to file an open records request, which we did, and then we received the letter, which you can find after the jump, on March 3.

"As we have stated in the past, if there is criminal activity occurring in Dallas County, the citizens that we serve can rest assured that the District Attorney's Office is following the law and doing its job," said Jamille Bradfield, spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. "However, in keeping with the traditions of how law enforcement operates, we will neither confirm nor deny whether individuals are under investigation, nor will we vet our cases with the media or the court of public opinion. As it relates to the Attorney General's offers to investigate certain Dallas County elected officials, with all due respect, the mere fact that the offers were not only made in writing, but then provided to the media, gives our office reason to question the AG's motives. Furthermore, the letters, which they chose to make public, are a hindrance and unnecessary obstacle to any criminal investigation that may or may not be underway."

Obviously, WFAA's Brett Shipp and the Ed Timms-Kevin Krause reporting duo at The Dallas Morning News were among those who missed our piece.

Included in the comments below the online version of today's DMN story, "txholdm" asked: "Hey DMN why don't you report the link of Watkins' personal attorney and the Constables? He represents both of them. They are all eggs in the same basket."

We're guessing the commenter was attempting to point out the cozy relationship between Royce West and Watkins, although West only represents Precinct 1 Constable Derick Evans, while Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes is represented by Domingo Garcia and Larry Friedman. Of course, this is something we made clear in our story, as in: "Commissioner Price has donated to both their campaigns, and powerful Democratic State Senator Royce West, a mentor to District Attorney Watkins and the largest contributor to his campaign, serves as Evans' attorney."

What we weren't able to fit in the story, however, were the thoughts of Dallas lawyer Bill Wirskye on the matter. Wirskye, a former chief felony prosecutor for the DA's Office from 2000 to 2005, says the West-Watkins relationship raises questions about Watkins's willingness to prosecute Evans and ability to prosecute him objectively.

"If his biggest donor is the defense lawyer in the case, then I think he may need to think twice about whether he's the right person and his office is the proper office to investigate and prosecute it because there's always going to be that cloud of suspicion that it's politically motivated one way or another," he says.

Wirskye says Watkins has taken too long to conduct an investigation, and it's time for him to act. "You still have people who are public servants, and they either deserve to be cleared or the public deserves for them to be prosecuted if there's a crime."

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson says Watkins is "apparently unprepared" to act regarding the allegations surrounding the constables because the rest of the Dallas County Democratic establishment is uncomfortable with having public officials called to account. And, like Wirskye, Jillson says Watkins's investigation has been slow moving.

"When you go from being Texan of the Year to being called out, 'For God's sake, do something,' it suggests that you're being much more than careful," he says. "In fact, you're dragging your feet."OAG-Watkins letter

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten