Craig Watkins Painted Himself into a Corner in His Contempt Case. Now What?

So this is easy, isn't it? Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins himself will prove whether he's a crook or not by refiling or not refiling his big case against Al Hill III.

What's it going to be? Either he does follow through on his threat to refile, because he thinks Hill's lawyers and the FBI have nothing good on him. Or after talking big and giving everybody the bad eye all week, Watkins takes a dive because he's afraid going back to court will put him in the same old hot-seat again.

According to his own underlings, our district attorney is supposed to be super pissed off that his mortgage fraud case against a rich guy got killed because a judge was worried the district attorney might have taken a bribe to do it. Watkins himself is in sulk-hiding, but his people have been thumping their chests, saying the rich guy damn well did do a crime and they damn well will refile a case against him.

Judge Lena Levario tossed out a mortgage fraud case Watkins had brought against Hill after Watkins refused to answer questions about taking money from and doing favors for a lawyer who was suing Hill. Levario cited him for contempt, but she said she couldn't do anything other than toss the case against Hill because Watkins' stubborn silence made it impossible to determine if the case was bogus.

OK. If Watkins refiles this case in pretty much any way, shape or form, the same questions will have to be answered. He'll be right back on the stand with his hand figuratively on the Bible.

Is he filing on Hill again because he sincerely believes Hill committed a crime by faking up a mortgage application? Or is he filing again because powerful Democratic moneybags lawyer Lisa Blue dumped tons of money into his own campaign coffers and/or the coffers of other candidates to whom Watkins' wife has peddled her services as a campaign consultant, and then Blue called Watkins up and told him to turn his office into her own collection agency when she couldn't collect the fees she thought she was owed by Hill?

That question doesn't go away.

Look, Watkins himself set up this next chapter. He could have slunk away and licked his wounds in silence. You know: He issues one of those statements about, "We are disappointed, but we respect the workings of the American justice system and ... blah-blah-blah ... we're not talking about this again."

Oh, no. In fact, Russell Wilson, a lawyer who works for Watkins, is all over the front page of The Dallas Morning News this morning talking large about how Hill committed a crime and Watkins is not about to close his eyes to it:

"I would be offended if another law enforcement agency told us to be like the monkey and hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil," Wilson told the News. "If there was a situation where a prosecutor was going to be prosecuted for prosecuting a crime, it would have to be where no crime occurred and that's not the situation here."

Cool. So bring it.

Speaking of blah-blah-blah, The Morning News story is all about Watkins being the focus of an FBI inquiry, which we already knew, but the Morning News has no idea what it's about, for which we say thanks for keeping us posted. But here's the deal:

If Watkins believes Hill committed a crime, but he fails to bring the Hill case back to court, we will be forced to conclude he's letting Hill skate because Watkins is afraid Watkins will get put on the stand again, and Watkins can't afford that because of the FBI thing.

Again, he set this up. He brought the case against Hill in the first place. I'm not the one to say whether the case was dicey. I know if you lie on a financial document, you can do time. Maybe.

He's the one who defied a judge and refused to talk. There was plenty he could have said, even, "If I erred in personal judgment by talking to Blue, that still shouldn't allow this or any other defendant to escape justice."

Actually, if he was afraid the FBI was watching, he could have done what Blue did: take the Fifth. That would have been painful in terms of his chances for re-election, but it wouldn't have been as bad legally as what he did. He just dummied up. Hey. You can't do that. It's against the law. You can't refuse to talk when a judge tells you to talk, even if you're the district attorney.

He still could have slunk out, taken his meds and dropped the hot potato. But if he doesn't bring the case back, I don't see any other conclusion to draw than that he's chicken to go to court again because he's afraid of the FBI.

Say this: he's done one thing for us. Mr. Watkins has made this whole thing real simple.

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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