Dallas County

Susan Hawk, Three Months Into Her Latest Absence, Is Still Missing

Tuesday, July 12 was probably the biggest gathering of Dallas and Texas law enforcement in the region's history. Thousands of officers, city staff and county officials gathered at a memorial service in honor of the five cops killed by Micah Johnson on July 7 to hear words from President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Police Chief David Brown. It was a somber, moving occasion for those in attendance, but there were two notable absences from the audience at the Meyerson.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott wasn't in attendance because he was in the hospital after burning his legs while on vacation. Abbott would be released from the hospital later that week and is back at work. Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk wasn't there either, for reasons that are not as simple.

Hawk has been away from her post since early May after suffering a relapse of the severe depression that led to a hospitalization in 2015. After that hospitalization, Hawk was sued by a former employee Cindy Stormer, in an attempt to remove Hawk from her office. She successfully defended herself from removal in February and promised that she would run for re-election in 2018.

This year, she first sought treatment at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, the same place she'd gone last year, before briefly returning to Dallas and then checking herself into another facility in Arizona. She's been in that facility since June 20, according to her office.

Last week, the district attorney's office said that it hoped to announce Hawk's return date sometime this week. That hasn't happened. When the Observer got in touch with the office's spokeswoman Brittany Dunn on Wednesday, she said that there was "no update" on Hawk's status.

For the time being, the Dallas County district attorney, who oversees 500 employees and 250 prosecutors, is effectively Hawk's second in command, Messina Madson, who's now covered for Hawk for almost six of the 19 months Hawk's been in office. No one has ever voted for Madson.

It's hard to imagine how Hawk maintains any sort of authority at this point, but she'll likely remain in office, drawing the $218,000 salary she's never turned down, until August 19. If she quits before then, there will be a special election on November 8 to determine her replacement. Republicans like Patrick Wilson, the Ellis County district attorney who prosecuted Hawk's removal suit after being asked to do so by the Dallas County commissioners, have said Hawk should resign. So have Democrats, including prominent Dallas defense attorney Pete Schulte, who is looking at running for Hawk's office at the first opportunity. 

With Hawk's baggage and the increased turnout that's guaranteed in a presidential year, Dallas County Republicans would likely lose the only countywide elected office they hold. If she waits until August 20 to step aside, Greg Abbott will name Hawk's replacement, and Dallas County will be stuck with him or her until 2018's mid-term election.
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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