On Christmas, The Dallas Morning News gifted Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins with a big fat lump of coal in article form, detailing a lawsuit filed against him by Citibank that alleges he owes more than $15,000 on his credit card plus interest.
The article, supplemented this morning by an editorial, detailed Watkins's other financial mishaps over the years: the time his law license was briefly suspended in 2007 for not paying his dues to the State Bar of Texas; the disputed $3,400 that he may or may not owe Denton County from when he worked in private practice; his 2008 default on his home loan; the 2009 Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages lawsuit against him for $1,249 in advertising and the company's previous lawsuits for $16,000; and income tax disputes related to Watkins's former bail bond business, Fair Park Bail Bonds, amounting to more than $100,000.
In an interview, Watkins tells Unfair Park he's managed to take care of all of his past financial hiccups, and he will do the same with the Citibank lawsuit, about which he says he knew nothing until the paper called him a few days before Christmas. He says he's already in the process of establishing a new payment agreement.
Before Watkins became district attorney in 2007, his private law practice, bail bond company and real estate title company jointly ensured that his wallet was padded. His paycheck was relatively large, he says, and his lifestyle included proportional luxuries. He and his wife invested heavily in real estate. The $15,000 he owes Citibank was pocket change back then, he says, but things changed when he was elected district attorney.
His salary was slashed, and the real estate market took a nose-dive faster than his and his family's lifestyle could adjust. "I had three strings of income which are gone," Watkins says. "My lifestyle at the time correlated with those strings of income."
The News lists his salary as $125,000 annually, but Watkins says it's higher because he's also paid by the state, though he wouldn't say exactly how much. Nevertheless, he says, it was once significantly higher than it is now, and the pay cut lead him into debt.
"This was a sacrifice for my family and I," he says. "It's a sacrifice I made for a reason."
When his personal finances came to a head after the election, Watkins says, he made an agreement with Citibank to pay monthly installments. But, he says, Citibank sold some of its debt in the quagmire of the nation's banking system, and somehow the arrangement he'd worked out was lost in the shuffle.
"The lawsuit was a mistake," he says. "They shouldn't have filed it."
With his current position and salary, Watkins says, he's fortunate to be in a position where he can recover. "What a lot of Americans are going through right now, it's difficult," Watkins says. "The real estate market exploded, it busted. Then, it's like, what do you do? Now I'm getting all these calls like, 'Craig, what's up? You're not living up to your responsibility.' You can't say that Craig Watkins lived above his means, because he didn't. My means were very different when I was in private practice."
Besides, he says: His personal money problems have nothing to do with his public duties.
"Correlate the two. Show me where I have failed managing the D.A.'s office," he says. "I've worked within the budget that they have given me. But whatever they give me, it's been used to make Dallas County safer. It's been used to be awarded the top prosecutor of the nation," he says, referring to an award he received from the American Bar Association.
The News posted a headline Tuesday afternoon that read "Should Craig Watkins Resign?" When Unfair Park repeats the question, Watkins laughs: "Just because I got sued? Have you seen how many times I've been sued?"
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