Dallas County

Susan Hawk Ouster Attempt Is Finished. She Keeps Her Job.

Susan Hawk, dogged since fall with the possibility of being kicked out of her job as Dallas County district attorney, will stay in office. Semi-retired Judge David Peeples ruled that a lawsuit filed by a former employee seeking to remove Hawk will not go forward. His ruling cannot be appealed.

The suit, filed by fired Dallas County prosecutor Cindy Stormer in October, claimed she was incapable of properly performing her duties because of delusional and erratic behavior.

Hawk and her attorneys have argued that her behavior before a lengthy, unannounced absence this summer, and the absence itself, have no bearing on her ability to do her job now or in the future. Her alleged delusional behavior — witnesses say she thought her phone and computer where being monitored, and she accused former top assistant Bill Wirskye of breaking into her home to steal illicit photos — had no bearing on the case now. She sought treatment, they say, and has recovered from the crippling depression that caused her to miss work for nearly three months.

"The evidence, which is undisputed, is that she is better and that she is fine," attorney Doug Alexander said of Hawk during the hearing.

Alexander compared Hawk and Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott, who is a paraplegic, might not have been able to function as governor in 1879, when the removal statute that was being used against Hawk was written, but he can function fine in the office today. Same goes for Hawk, Alexander argued. A hundred years ago, her mental illness might have been a bar to her serving. Today, she just needs treatment. 

Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson, appointed by the Dallas County Commissioner's Court to represent the state in the suit against Hawk, told Peeples a jury should be allowed to evaluate the competing claims about Hawk's fitness for office. Current district attorney's office employees filed affidavits that said Hawk was doing her job just fine, and that removing or suspending her would damage the office. Former employees, including Wirskye, filed statements documenting paranoia, threats and incompetence. Wilson talked about Hawk's abuse of prescription drugs — she went to rehab during her 2014 campaign against then incumbent district attorney Craig Watkins — and said that the "narrative" that Hawk was simply suffering from depression amounted to a PR campaign.

After the hearing, Hawk admitted to being emotional at Peeples' decision.

"Of course I’m emotional. Just having this behind me, behind all of us. It was like a black cloud that’s over our office. It needs to go away because we are doing fantastic things,” she said.

Wilson was OK with the ruling.

"I don't have any qualms with this decision," he said. "This is Dallas' problem, not mine, and I'm happy to go home."

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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