Get Real. Susan Hawk Is Done as DA

Time for the bucket of cold water in our face treatment. Susan Hawk, the Dallas County district attorney currently on leave with mental health problems, is not going to come back and sit behind the desk and be the DA. Not successfully, if she tries. It’s just not a realistic scenario. We need to get real.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Anybody can get sideways. Just about everybody I know has, at one time or another. But now I hear people saying Hawk deserves some kind of a medal for dealing with her mental health issues openly while remaining in the public eye. Are you kidding me? What public eye? What open?

Hawk has dealt with her mental and addiction issues dishonestly at every single turn. She disappeared from the campaign trail in 2013 to go to rehab and told people it was for back problems. When she absconded more recently, her political consultant, Mary Woodlief, said she was “on summer break,” to which the proper response should have been, “What, is she 15?”

That’s the problem if she came back. Of course she’ll say she’s all fine now. Really? Put yourself in the place of her employees. How do they know? What do they know?

As more details of Hawk’s behavior around the DA’s office emerge, she sounds more like a scary-bad imitation of Carrie Mathison, the bipolar CIA agent on the television series Homeland. Apparently, when Hawk comes over to talk to you, you have to turn off your phone and computer so “they” will not be able to listen in. When she comes back to work, will “they” be coming with her?

It’s more than that. Worse than that. District attorney is a job that requires a certain command presence. We can empathize with Hawk, feel sorry for her, whatever you want to call it, but it’s just not realistic to think she can waltz back in to be the county’s top law enforcement official at this point, and the mental health problems may not be her greatest challenge.

It’s not just outrageous, it’s preposterous somehow that this person, who ran for office accusing the incumbent of corruption in the personal use of forfeiture funds, has already embroiled herself in some kind of a mess over the personal use of forfeiture funds, and two senior employees who were in charge of those funds have already been fired over it.

If you run for office and get elected to office on a promise to clean up the forfeiture funds issue, then you don’t want to have any arguments with anybody ever about your own use of forfeiture funds, that pile of cash prosecutors can spend with little oversight. You want to imagine a permanent mental 10-foot pole between yourself and the forfeiture funds.

Certainly what’s galling about Hawk is not the condition of depression that she claims to suffer from. The more visible and notable syndrome, according to those who have worked with her, is paranoia, but I don’t think that’s the core issue either, necessarily, in assessing her role as D.A. The paranoia could easily be exaggerated in the telling of it as snarky office gossip, and, anyway, I’m here to testify that you don’t have to have a good personality to do a good job.

It’s the narcissism. Everything seems to revolve around this person, around keeping her happy. Those who fail to do so seem to get fired. And in that self-absorption, there isn’t a whole lot of room left for the burdens of office.

While Hawk sits somewhere far from the public eye in an undisclosed facility, thousands cool their heels in the Lew Sterrett jail, some of whom are innocent and should be released, some of whom will commit more crimes if they get out. Susan Hawk is supposed to be a very important element in keeping that wheel turning.

The idea that she doesn’t have to be there, that we don’t have to have a district attorney because the staff can do it, is completely absurd. We didn’t create this system of government so major government agencies could be implacable self-oiling machines. We’re supposed to have somebody at the top who works for us, the voters.

Let’s say she does try to come back and pick up where she left off. At this point the combination of the appearance of financial impropriety, hypocrisy and self-dealing with her issues of dishonesty and instability make a caustic witch’s brew of reasons why she will never again enjoy the credibility she would need to continue in this role.

The return itself is absurd. Today she’s ready to climb in the saddle again and crack the whip, all recovered from her bout. Ah, no, last minute change-up: not quite ready after all. Needs a couple more weeks.

Give us a break. This is over.  
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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