Ex-Judge Appointed as Dallas County District Attorney

December 7, 2016
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed former prosecutor and former state judge Faith Johnson as Dallas County district attorney on Tuesday, three months after Susan Hawk stepped down to seek treatment for mental illness.

Abbott lauded Johnson’s experience as a former chief felony prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. Johnson, 66, of Cedar Hill, was the first African-American woman appointed to the job. She was recently in private practice.

“As a former prosecutor, district judge, and while serving on the Department of Public Safety Commission, Faith has shown a commitment to law enforcement and the rule of law,” Abbott said in a statement. “She has devoted herself to defending some of our most vulnerable Texans, and I am confident that in her new role as district attorney, Faith will continue to fight for the people of Dallas County and ensure that justice is served.”

Bishop T.D. Jakes, with The Potter’s House in Dallas, called Johnson an “excellent choice.”

“I applaud Gov. Abbott’s appointment, and his choice is affirming to women and people of color that there is indeed a place for all Americans in his administration,” Jakes said in a statement. “I believe that Faith will restore stability to the Dallas County district attorney’s office and exact due process of the law in a fair and unbiased method.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, said Abbott made an “exceptional” choice in Johnson, calling her the “best candidate” to serve Dallas County.

In her resignation letter to Abbott, Hawk said she believed her office was “making a difference” and she wanted to continue her work. She had faced growing calls for her resignation after she took three medical leaves in the course of a year for mental health.

When Hawk returned to work after her first medical leave in August 2015, former prosecutor and administrative chief Cindy Stormer sued and sought Hawk’s ouster.

Stormer claimed Hawk showed “escalating mental illness and incompetence,” with “bouts of paranoia and mistrust” and questionable firings of employees.

A trial judge dismissed Stormer’s lawsuit in January.

Johnson will serve out Hawk’s term, through Dec. 31, 2018.

From Courthouse News.

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Dallas DA Resigns After 3rd Mental-Health Leave

September 6, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk resigned from office Tuesday, saying her health needs her “undivided attention” after she took medical leave three times in the past year for mental illness treatment.
In a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Hawk said she believes her office is “making a difference” and that she wants to continue their good work. A fellow Republican, Abbott is now tasked with appointing a replacement.
“But last fall upon returning from treatment, I made a commitment to step away from the office if I felt I could no longer do my job, and unfortunately I’ve reached that point as my health needs my full attention in the coming months,” the two-page letter states. “While my personal health issues have received much attention over the past months, it’s my hope that those issues do not overshadow the great work our office over the past 20 months.”
Hawk touted improved efficiency within her office that reduced the cost of disposition for each case, a new external audit process for forfeiture fund spending and securing over $2 million in grants for rape kit testing, among other things.
Hawk first left office for treatment last August for what she called a “serious episode of depression.”
Upon her return two months later, former prosecutor and administrative chief Cindy Stormer sued and sought Hawk’s ouster. Stormer claimed Hawk showed “escalating mental illness and incompetence,” that she has “bouts of paranoia and mistrust” and engaged in questionable firings of employees. A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit in January.
Hawk spoke publicly about her mental health struggles after her return, giving interviews to the media, appearing at several town hall meetings and second-chairing a murder trial to show she was still up for the job.
Hawk was released from a Houston psychiatric hospital in June during a second medical leave for depression.
She then took a third medical leave and returned to work in August. She has declined to speak to the media since.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas DA Back After 3rd Mental Health Leave

August 11, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) — Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk returned to work Thursday after taking leave for the third time in a year to treat a mental illness.
“While I have made it a priority to be completely transparent about my fight with this disease, my mental health team and I felt it was important to minimize my exposure to the media while I undergo treatment and refrain from announcing or even setting an official return date,” Hawk said in a statement.
Hawk said she had “constant contact” with her office and doctors, and that they decided she is now ready to return to work. She said that although mental illness is a “lifelong disease,” she is looking forward to working with her staff again.
Hawk’s announcement comes two months after she returned to work from a second stint of depression treatment at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. She first disappeared from work last summer after taking office in January 2015. Both absences led to calls for Hawk to resign.
When Hawk returned to work last October after her first leave, she spoke publicly about her mental health struggles. She appeared at town hall meetings and second-chaired in a murder trial to show she was still up to the job.
Within days of her return, however, a former prosecutor filed an ouster suit against Hawk in county court. Cindy Stormer said that Hawk’s absence, several firings of longtime staffers and her allegedly erratic and paranoid behavior indicated a “complete break with reality.” A judge dismissed the lawsuit three months later.
Stormer claimed that Hawk’s former second-in-command Bill Wirskye was fired after being accused of breaking into Hawk’s home and stealing a “blow job shot” photograph. Wirskye denied the accusation and said Hawk’s paranoia paralyzed the office, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
Hawk’s attorney, Douglas W. Alexander with Alexander Dubose in Austin, arguedduring the ouster proceedings that the state law used to try and oust Hawk from office is from the 19th century and should not apply to this circumstance. Drawing a comparison with wheelchair-bound Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Alexander said someone like Abbott would have been considered unfit for office at the time.
“The governor of Texas is paralyzed from the waist down,” he said at the time. “No one would ever suggest he suffers from a physical defect.”

From Courthouse News.

Ex-Dallas DA Official Admits Taking Bribes

June 29, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – The former chief investigator for the Dallas County district attorney admitted Tuesday he took $200,000 in bribes disguised as a cattle investment to make a criminal case go away.
Anthony L. Robinson, 53, of Mesquite, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe or reward an agent of an organization receiving federal funds. He worked for the district attorney’s office for around 22 years, serving as chief investigator under former District Attorney Craig Watkins from 2007 to 2014.
Robinson faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He was charged by a federal grand jury in June 2015; the indictment was unsealed Tuesday.
Robinson agreed in a plea agreement to pay more than $31,000 in restitution. He is free on bond and will be sentenced on Oct. 12.
Prosecutors did not identify the defendant who paid the bribe. They said that from September 2012 to May 2013, Robinson “solicited, demanded, and accepted” a bribe that was “disguised as an investment in a cattle business.”
“On approximately September 13, 2012, Robinson traveled to Las Vegas, at Dallas County expense, to take custody of this individual and return him to Dallas County to face a criminal charge,” prosecutors said in a statement. “On the return trip, Robinson told this individual that he wanted to enter the cattle business. This individual told Robinson that he was wealthy and would be willing to enter into business with Robinson if Robinson would assist in getting his criminal charges dismissed. Robinson agreed.”
Five months later, Robinson drafted a proposed business partnership in which the unidentified defendant “would supply the initial funding” while Robinson “would handle all day-to-day activities.”
“On March 26, 2013, this individual deposited $200,000 into a joint checking account, and on March 27, 2013, Robinson signed paperwork adding himself as a co-owner of the joint checking account,” prosecutors said. “The next day, Robinson wrote a $5,000 check from that joint account to his wife. Robinson also made additional withdrawals from the account that he used for personal expenses, and he also withdrew some money that he sent back to this individual.”
Robinson used his position to persuade an assistant district attorney to dismiss the charge two months later, prosecutors said.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Robinson’s plea.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas DA Released From Hospital

June 15, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk has left a Houston psychiatric hospital but has yet to return to work after a second stint of depression treatment, her office said Tuesday.
It said Hawk “has not been cleared to return” to work by her doctors.
“She will remain under the advisement of her doctors as they work to develop a treatment plan and set a return date,” the office said in a statement.
Hawk’s office said in May that “relapse is common” for the millions of Americans who suffer from major depressive disorder. It did not explicitly state that Hawk was seeking mental health treatment, but said she “is taking the necessary steps” for her to continue to serve.
More than 15 million Americans, about 6.7 percent of the adult population, suffer from persistent depressive disorder, a depression that lasts for at least two weeks, the National Institute of Mental Health reported in 2014.
A 1999 study reported in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that anxiety disorders of all types cost the United States more than $42 billion a year — then 28 percent of the nation’s total $148 billion bill for mental health.
Hawk first disappeared from work last summer for two months, eventually saying she was seeking treatment for a “serious episode of depression” and describing her absence as a “summer break.” Both absences led to calls for Hawk to resign.
When Hawk returned to work in October, she spoke publicly and in detail about her struggles. She appeared at town hall meetings and second-chaired in a murder trial to show she was still meeting the challenges of her job.
Within days of her return, Hawk was sued by a former prosecutor who sought to oust her from office. Cindy Stormer said that Hawk’s absence, several firings of longtime staffers and her allegedly erratic and paranoid behavior indicated a “complete break with reality.” A judge dismissed the lawsuit three months later.
Stormer claimed that Hawk’s former second-in-command Bill Wirskye was fired after being accused of breaking into Hawk’s home and stealing a “blow job shot” photograph. He said Hawk’s paranoia paralyzed the office, according an affidavit filed in the case.
“Her tone was both bizarre and aggressive,” Wirskye’s affidavit stated. “When I asked her what she was talking about, she accused me of calling her mother and harassing her, breaking into her parent’s garage, and breaking into her house and stealing a photo of her. (These accusations were all untrue.) It was apparent to me that Ms. Hawk was completely delusional and detached from reality.”
Wirskye said he was fired in March 2015 and that upon leaving the courthouse, he told Hawk’s political adviser that she needed to be placed “immediately” in in-patient treatment.
In November, Hawk announced an initiative to divert first-time nonviolent offenders who are young or mentally ill away from prison.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas County DA Hints at Mental Health Relapse

May 20, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk is facing renewed calls for her resignation after her office hinted Friday that she has suffered a mental health “relapse.”
Hawk disappeared from work for two months last summer, after taking office in January 2015. She later disclosed she was seeking treatment for a “serious episode of depression” and described her absence as a “summer break.”
A former prosecutor that Hawk fired, Cindy Stormer, sued last October, seeking Hawk’s ouster from office.
Stormer cited Hawk’s absence, several controversial firings of longtime staffers and Hawk’s allegedly erratic and paranoid behavior indicating a “complete break with reality.” A judge tossed the lawsuit in January.
In a vague press release, Hawk’s office said Friday that “relapse is common” for the 16 million people in the United States suffering from major depressive disorder.
The press release does not explicitly state Hawk is on leave for mental health treatment, but hints that she “is taking the necessary steps so that she can continue to serve the community.”
“She is being proactive with her mental health plan and is determined to stay whole and healthy to insure that Dallas County is safe and thriving,” her office said. “The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office will continue to operate with a commitment to justice and public safety.”
Hawk’s attorney in the ouster suit, Douglas Alexander with Alexander Dubose in Austin, said after the dismissal that his client should be congratulated for seeking help for her depression instead of being stigmatized and facing ouster. He said President Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression and was still a great leader.
Stormer alleged that Hawk’s former second-in-command Bill Wirskye was fired after being accused of breaking into Hawk’s home and stealing a “blow job shot” photograph. He said Hawk’s paranoia paralyzed the office, according an affidavit filed in the case.
“Her tone was both bizarre and aggressive,” Wirskye’s affidavit stated. “When I asked her what she was talking about, she accused me of calling her mother and harassing her, breaking into her parent’s garage, and breaking into her house and stealing a photo of her. (These accusations were all untrue.) It was apparent to me that Ms. Hawk was completely delusional and detached from reality.”
Wirskye said he was fired in March 2015 and that upon leaving the courthouse, he told Hawk’s political adviser that she needed to be placed “immediately” in in-patient treatment.
On Friday, Dallas criminal defense attorney Peter Schulte tweeted, “If DA Susan Hawk has truly relapsed and is back in treatment, it’s time for her to resign. I could understand once. Not twice. Wish her well.”
Attorney Tom Nowak also called for Hawk’s resignation.
“It’s one thing when you have an issue that affects you for a certain time, but when it’s a continual issue and you’re in a position of public trust, then you have to do what’s right for the county,” Nowak told The Dallas Morning News.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas DA Ducks Prosecutor’s Ouster Effort

January 8, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – A Texas judge dismissed a fired prosecutor’s lawsuit accusing Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk of incompetence, official misconduct and mental instability before she took a two-month leave to treat her depression.
Visiting Bexar County District Judge David Peeples tossed the lawsuit at the end of a hearing Friday morning.
Hawk faced the possibility of being temporarily removed from office if Peeples had allowed the case to move forward and he had granted the state’s request for an evidentiary hearing. His ruling cannot be appealed.
Hawk was visibly emotional when the lawsuit was dismissed. Flanked by her attorneys and staffers, she told reporters outside of the courtroom that Peeples “saw the truth” and that she is ready to get back to work.
“It was a black cloud that was over our office,” she said. “It needed to go away because we are doing fantastic things.”
Hawk said she wants to be a crusader for the “stigma” of mental illness.
Her attorney, Douglas W. Alexander with Alexander Dubose in Austin, argued the state law used to try and oust Hawk from office is from the 19th century and should not apply to this circumstance. Drawing a comparison with wheelchair-bound Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Alexander said someone like Abbott would have been considered unfit for office at the time.
“The governor of Texas is paralyzed from the waist down,” he said. “No one would ever suggest he suffers from a physical defect.”
Alexander said his client should be congratulated for seeking help for her depression instead of being stigmatized and facing ouster. He said President Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression and was still a great leader.
Hawk’s former administrative chief Cindy Stormer sued in October, citing Hawk’s lengthy absence last year, several controversial firings of longtime staffers and Hawk’s allegedly erratic and paranoid behavior indicating a “complete break with reality.”
Stormer also accused Hawk of repeatedly asking her to use public funds improperly. She claimed Hawk held a $22,500 check of public money for two months and “claimed that she thought it was her pay stub,” asked to use public money to pay attorney association and Rotary dues, and asked for a credit card in her name in violation of county policy.
After the hearing, Stormer told reporters she wishes Hawk well.
Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson intervened in the case last month, appearing on behalf of the state in arguing for Hawk’s removal. The Dallas County Commissioners Court had earlier asked Wilson to intervene in the suit on the state’s behalf.
One fired staffer was Hawk’s former second-in-command Bill Wirskye, who Stormer said was fired after being accused of breaking into Hawk’s home and stealing a “blow job shot” photograph. He said Hawk’s paranoia paralyzed the office, according to an affidavit filed this week.
“Her tone was both bizarre and aggressive,” Wirskye’s affidavit stated. “When I asked her what she was talking about, she accused me of calling her mother and harassing her, breaking into her parent’s garage, and breaking into her house and stealing a photo of her. (These accusations were all untrue.) It was apparent to me that Ms. Hawk was completely delusional and detached from reality.”
Wirskye said he was fired on March 23 and that upon leaving the courthouse, he told Hawk’s political adviser that she needed to be placed “immediately” in in-patient treatment.
Judge Peeples’ ruling comes one day after several current district attorney employees filed responding affidavits disputing the claims made by the fired employees.

From Courthouse News.