Dallas County

Craig Watkins' Attorneys Are Outraged that Special Prosecutor Said the Word "Noose"

We've given up on following the ins-and-outs of Craig Watkins' contempt case. It has long since passed the popcorn stage and descended into the incomprehensible legal muck. The back-and-forth between Watkins and his enemies has strayed so far that the actual matter at hand -- whether the DA brought mortgage fraud charges against Hunt family scion Al Hill III at the behest of a Democratic donor -- is hard to recall.

Watkins has good reason to want it that way. The more legal distractions there are, the less vivid the memory of Watkins feigning illness, then sitting stony-faced when subpoenaed to testify about the mortgage fraud case, becomes. Hence the attempt by the DA's attorneys to have District Judge Lena Levario, who issued the contempt order, removed from the case over a county employee's claim that the judge promised to "serve Craig Watkins ... on a silver platter to the FBI."

That charge always carried the distinct odor of bullshit. That an otherwise competent and well-respected judge would throw away any pretense of impartiality by blabbing about her vendetta against Watkins to a random IT worker over lunch at Subway strains credulity. Yesterday, Administrative Judge John Ovard basically agreed, ruling that the DA had not proved Levario's bias.

In the aftermath of the ruling, special prosecutor Bob Hinton was triumphant. "The DA has a core interest here to try to get Craig Watkins' head out of the noose, and they think that if they can disqualify Judge Levario, that's the end of the contempt," he told reporters after the hearing.

Hinton would have been wise to employ another metaphor here, one that doesn't evoke an image of Dallas County's first black district attorney being lynched. Hinton quickly backtracked, calling his statement a "poor choice of words," but Watkins' attorneys had already seized upon it.

"It's a grotesque use of words and language," assistant district attorney Russell Wilson said, according to NBC 5. "It has absolutely no place in our judicial system by any party, under any circumstances at any time."

Wilson went on to suggest that Hinton's remarks were calculated to undermine Watkins and his office, a charge that Hinton denied.

"What would they have said if I said, 'He was trying to get off the hot seat?'" Hinton said, according to The Dallas Morning News. "That's all I meant. They are just looking for something to grandstand on."

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson