Saturday, May 29, 2010

New revelations mean it's time for Craig Watkins to give AG constable corruption cases

After initially denying it, Dallas DA Craig Watkins acknowledged this week that his office was notified in early 2008 about corruption allegations regarding Dallas County constables - in particular alleged kickbacks from a towing company employed without authorization. A Dallas News editorial rightly says the revelation wounds the DA's credibility.

The DA continues to dodge all the hard questions about this story, but according to columnist Gromer Jeffers, Jr. (who seems to serve the role of a Watkins campaign flak though he's paid by the Morning News), Watkins' official spokesman "Eric Celeste scoffed at the GOP criticism. 'If they want to use an issue Craig has already addressed, that's fine,' Celeste said."

That's flat-out delusional. It's sure not just Republicans critical of Watkins. The whole constable mess was dug up and forced onto the table by Democrat County Judge Jim Foster, and Democratic primary voters ousted one of the embattled constables primarily over these allegations.

I've long argued that Watkins should either hand off these cases to Attorney General Greg Abbott or the US Attorney should step in. This revelation that Watkins sat on corruption allegations for so long leaves him in an untenable position as prosecutor: If he fails to act he'll look like he's covering up corruption. If he moves forward it will keep the issue in the news with his name attached to it and none of the questions about motive will be adequately answered until the cases are finally complete, perhaps years from now. Neither are tenable options.

This week's revelation should spur Watkins to reconsider immediately his decision not to pass the constable cases off to the Attorney General. He's said before he thinks the AG has partisan motives, but in this instance I don't believe that's true. It's Abbott's job to step in when the local DA is conflicted, and at this point Watkins (or his critics) could cite a long list of conflicts.

Politically, handing off the cases to the AG would take some of the immediate heat off the DA. When asked about the cases, Watkins could credibly refer all inquiries to the AG instead of saying "no comment" over and over to the same, obvious questions. Instead, he and his spokespeople keep digging him a bigger and bigger hole.

The status quo is untenable. Watkins should recuse his office, send the cases to the AG, and get out from under this mess before it tears down his administration and his reelection chances.


R. Shackleford said...

It would be awesome to have just ONE DA who was fair, competent, and above reproach. No sleazy back scratching, no insane crusades against minor crimes, no bullying or grandstanding... just a nice, honest person who's trying to make his little county a better place for EVERYONE. Instead, we get Bradleys and Watkins. -sigh-

Robert Langham said...

There's no such thing as a whole politician.

Anonymous said...

so when does the investigation of Watkins and his people begin. It is fairlyh obvious they were protecting/hiding soemthing for the Constables. If the DA's office was tryign to uphold law, it would have taken a week at best in 2008 for an investigation to have begun.

Anonymous said...

It is a violation of ethics rules for a prosecutor to discuss a pending case. Grits is the one place where Watkins should always receive support. If he is not reelected no DA will do what he has done in regard to conviction integrity.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:47, The criticism isn't that he doesn't discuss the case. The criticism is that his office has known of the allegations for two years and sat on them. An additional criticism is that he failed to pass the cases to the AG when confronted with the same conflict of interest (representing an official in civil suits and being asked to prosecute them simultaneously) that he faced with Constable Mike Dupree, where Watkins DID give the AG the case citing exactly those reasons.

When Defenbaugh did his investigation, he found most witnesses he spoke to had never been interviewed by the DA's office. So I'm not concerned that Watkins' office refuses to talk about the investigation as much as that they've seemingly refused to perform one.

Finally, I strongly support Watkins' innocence work and the work of his Conviction Integrity Unit. But that doesn't justify tolerating political corruption and I for one refuse to make excuses for him. This has been terribly mishandled - amateur hour from start to finish - and IMO the DA's Democratic enablers who are whispering in his ear that this is all a partisan conspiracy are doing Watkins a tremendous disservice.