Dallas County

Commissioner Mike Cantrell Continues Lonely Crusade Against Craig Watkins

Mike Cantrell, it seems, got what he wanted again. He's never going to succeed in getting the County Commissioners Court to appoint an outside attorney to investigate District Attorney Craig Watkins' use of forfeiture funds in an out-of-court settlement stemming from a February 2013 Dallas North Tollway accident for which the DA was at fault, just like he was never going to get John Wiley Price suspended from the court for the duration of his federal trial, now scheduled to begin in January 2016.

Cantrell didn't walk away from Tuesday's County Commissioners meeting empty-handed, though. He had his say, forcefully and on the record, about a Democratic elected official.

"We ought to be very upset that we were usurped," Cantrell said. "[The Commissioners Court] never knew anything about [the wreck]."

Theresa Snelson, the head of the district attorney's office's civil division, told Cantrell that it was common for matters not involving taxpayer money to be handled without the court.

"The suggestion that every claim comes before the Commissioners Court is just wrong," she said.

The district attorney's office, in accepting service for and then settling the suit, acted in place of the county, Cantrell said.

Watkins didn't really dispute that charge.

"I'm just as much Dallas County as you are," he said.

He had multiple reasons for not involving the commissioners, he said. General funds weren't used and, because he accepted full responsibility for the accident -- his office has said he was reviewing a speech on his phone when it happened -- the liability for the wreck and its fallout passed from the county to Watkins.

"There was nothing unethical, illegal or improper done in this case," Watkins said. "You want to complain about an accident I admitted [causing]."

Watkins said that Cantrell was acting politically, rather than in the best interest of the county.

"You did the same thing last week," he said, referring to Cantrell's resolution to suspend Price, "and you're doing it this week."

It practically goes without saying, but the court did not seem agreeable to appointing Cantrell's desired outside counsel when Cantrell makes a formal motion to do so, as he is expected to do later this month. County Judge Clay Jenkins told Cantrell that, Cantrell being an attorney, he could file a complaint with the state bar himself if he wanted.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young