Craig Watkins' Reputation Tattered by Judge's Damning Ruling in Hill Case

Categories: Schutze

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Most people have no idea what getting convicted of a crime really would do to them. Really. Not like on TV. As a reporter you catch glimpses. The real damage does not have to do with cops or courthouses. It's not even prison. It's the kid in the window.

A man I know told me once about a moment of extreme pressure in his life when old friends who were business partners, facing ruin, put the screws to him to join them in a financial deal that would bail them out but also violate mortgage law. At least figuratively his hand was trembling over the dotted line on the law-breaking contract, about to sign, when he was visited by a mental image of his kid in the living room window watching him leave for prison.

He didn't sign. The others did. They got caught. I don't remember if they did time. But his kid did not watch him leave for prison.

There's the pain. It's heart-deep and life-rending. Your reputation isn't merely public. In fact that's the easy part. Your reputation is also what the people near and dear to you think of you, and that's what really gets slashed and wounded by a criminal conviction.

The revelations today in the Craig Watkins/Lisa Blue matter are profoundly shocking. They show that a judge believes Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, with a national reputation built on exonerations, was willing to seek a false criminal conviction of two innocent citizens in order to help a major political donor with a money case and suck in some campaign money for himself in the process.

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Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has basked in huge limelight for his campaign to exonerate wrongly convicted felons. What does he get now for his campaign to wrongly convict innocent people in exchange for campaign money?
Let's say Watkins had prevailed and Al Hill III and his wife, Erin, were convicted of making false statements in obtaining a mortgage loan in excess of $200,000. Under Texas law , that would be a first degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison. And let's say, given that these are rich white people, the elected judges of our county felt obligated to set an example and sent them up the river for some period of time.

Now dial back with me to the 38-page court document just filed and made public in which District Court Judge Lena Levario lays out the reasons she tossed Watkins' criminal case against the Hills. Judge Levario provides multiple detailed instances of Watkins' staff lying in court.

In one instance, Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Martin testified under oath that she had always believed the case against the Hills was strong. But the judge says Martin was "impeached with her own notes" on the issue. Levario cites notes in which Martin had told lawyers seeking the indictment that "the bank really isn't interested in prosecuting" and she "didn't really see how she could prove his criminal case" since OmniAmerican Bank, the alleged victim, had suffered no loss and did not want to prosecute.

My layman's term for "impeached with her own notes" would be caught lying under oath. And what might have happened to change the mind of Martin and her boss, Craig Watkins, about the value of criminally indicting the Hills? Why was the case no good and then suddenly solid enough to seek an indictments?

Having a criminal indictment hanging over his head made it effectively impossible for Al Hill to testify in a separate civil case over a $22 million fee dispute with attorney Lisa Blue. Watkins' friend and campaign donor.

So what does all of that mean to us? Well, I don't know about you, but it means I personally do not ever want to hear the word, exoneration, in connection with Watkins' name again. Of course I believe it's a sin and a travesty for innocent people to get sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. So do you. But the Hill matter tells us that Watkins only wants to get people out of the pen if they look like his voter base.

If they are rich and white, then Watkins is perfectly at ease with maiming their lives in order to pull in some juicy campaign cash and keep a powerful Democratic lawyer happy. That doesn't have anything to do with justice. It's corruption. It sullies the work he has done to get wrongly convicted people out of prison. It reduces the whole matter to whoring for votes and money.

You do what you want. Me, next time I hear the name Craig Watkins in the same sentence with exonerations, I'm doing that hands-over-the-ears hear-no-evil thing, because that's what this Hill matter is. Evil.

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36 comments
TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I wonder if he still hates The Man now that he looks at him every morning in the mirror.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

This is one of those cases in which I try to think of what we could do to prevent this kind of thing. The problem is, I can not see a way to do it because people are elected to office.

Watkins was elected as a reaction to decades of prosecutors doing their best to convict people despite evidence proving their innocence. These prosecutors knew that the voters were only judging them on their conviction rates. The voters for once changed their minds and voted for someone who seemed to care more about justice than conviction rates, and we got yet another crooked politician.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo eyez thoughtz Craig Watkins wuz honest; honest eyez didz otay.

ryan762
ryan762

Politics.

F-in politics.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

I'd like to nominate Adam Schiff for DA. Jack McCoy would be ok too.

Tom434
Tom434

Move on Watkins will win the 2014 election with 54% of the vote

dingo
dingo

Why would someone still be allowed to practice law after evidence comes to light implying their coercion in a criminal prosecution for personal gain? A lawyer can buy the criminal justice system with zero investigation or reproach from the state bar?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

another example of the all too valid phrase "power corrupts".

I do not believe the first term DA Craig Watkins would have taken these actions.

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

So these politicians (all of them county/big govt) that do this and can sleep at night does that make them a sociopath or just a over achieving a**hole or neither??

James080
James080

Jim feigns shock to learn that Watkins trades political favors for financial gain. Really? Isn't that the nature of politics? Hell, I tend to believe that the prospect of whoring out political favors for personal financial gain is the main reason why most people seek elected office.

What the Findings by Judge Levario painfully illustrate is how utterly incompetent the DA and his team are in a courtroom. Shockingly incompetent.



animas
animas

Most people don't know what being wrongly accused of a crime by a corrupt government agency or official will do to them.  Sadly from the Michael Morton case in Willaimson Co to the IRS scandal to numerous incidents of abusive and opportunistic overcriminalization, the sad fact is we really cannot trust our govt officials or public servants.  Also digusting are the cases where an obviously well connected suspicious character seemingly gets off or apparently  gets away with outrageous fraud (Corzine etc).  The Watkins DA office relationship with an alleged Medicaid fraud dentist, is also interesting....

wilme2
wilme2

District Attorneys and Sheriffs should not be elected, they should be appointed by the elected county commissioners.  Yes, I know what we think of our current county line-up, but think about this - we don't elect police chiefs - we want them managed, hired, and fired, by those we elect.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

be careful, there may be some anonymous commenters com here to attack you and defend Watkins.  Check the IP

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I guess it must be the 'equity" concept that lead to his downfall ...


I hope he does the right thing and resigns.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

You can say it, Jim.  We all already know it, whether we will admit it or not.

It's racism.

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

@Tom434 

I have no doubt that his supporters would vote for him even if he were charged, convicted, disbarred and incarcerated. That's how it is when you're dealing with shameless, crooked politicians and low information Democrat voters. I know all about this because I live in Eddie Bernice Johnson's district.

ryan762
ryan762

@dingo Why would a District Judge who purposely withheld evidence in order to obtain a murder conviction against an innocent man so that a serial killer could kill again be allowed to continue to sit on the bench even after a Court of Inquiry decided there was enough evidence that he did do exactly what he was accused of and ordered him arrested for several felonies?

It's just how it all works.

arstubblefield
arstubblefield

@dingo I doubt it will go without investigation or reproach.  In most instances where a Judge's pique has been raised to that level, the Judge will turn the matter over to disciplinary counsel's office.  I would be surprised beyond measure if the SBoT didn't have something to say about all of this in the end.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

As much as I am used to the payola going on at City Hall for the usual cast if developers, oil companies, and DCC big wigs, it is still a surprise and disappointment this kind of extortion goes on among the DA and "prominent" attorneys.

I hope Watkins is held in contempt and the judge refers this case to the State Bar's disciplinary committee. As for all of those advocating less federal intercession in local affairs, this is a time where the FBI is the only enforcement body around.

observist
observist topcommenter

@animas  By "IRS scandal" are you referring to the supposed bias targeting of Tea Party groups' applications for tax exempt status?  The one that turned out to be nothing, because the Treasury Inspector General withheld the fact that the IRS also targeted groups with "Progressive" and other non-conservative words in their names?  That "IRS scandal"?

James080
James080

@wilme2  

Right. Let's give JWPrice and his sycophant Clay Jenkins the authority to direct prosecutions in Dallas County. No thanks. 

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

@everlastingphelps @whocareswhatithink So I guess we have a little narcissism with a dash of egocentrism.....or could it be the other way around (I really should have paid more attention in class)

Makes me appreciate the straight forwardness of a psychopath.

dingo
dingo

@observist @animas You're 'nothing' has branched out into a 'bigger nothing' involving the FEC and the DEA if you read this week's news.

wilme2
wilme2

@James080 Gee, I don't know - elect better people maybe?  Law enforcement positions should not be elected directly.  Just makes this problem endemic - this is just one case that actually made news.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I am afraid you are all too correct. The legal profession seems to have discarded its professionalism. It is win at all cost and "what is my partnership share this year."

Still, Hill Jr. Attys tried to extort Hill 3; Attys for Hill 3 use same extortion to collect from Hill 3; then Watkins joins BAM. An isolated incident? Strasburger, the epitome of prestigious and prominent, attacks an unrelated resident for expressing opposition to the Museum Tower, even attempting to get her fired from TCU. It is worse than the Mafia.

observist
observist topcommenter

@dingo @observist @animas  More like the previous nothing is scope-creeping into a different nothing because House Republicans, Darrell Issa in particular, need something, anything to be ABSOLUTELY OUTRAGED about.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@wilme2 @James080 unfortunately, an political appointee is beholden only to the one who appoints, not the people who elect.  There may be valid arguments for limiting the role of the Sheriff in large urban counties, but i don't think there is a valid reason for removing the people's voice in the law enforcement arena completely.  District Attorney should likewise be accountable to the people his office serves and not to political opportunists with the power to hire and fire at will.  These offices are charged with executing the will of the people in matters of law enforcement.  One of the reasons Craig Watkins got the opportunity to pursue exonerations for wrongfully convicted people is that he had the people behind him on it.  If his marching orders came from the Commissioner's Court or City Hall, exoneration would likely never have become a priority.

James080
James080

@wilme2 @James080  

I guess my heartburn with your suggestion is that Craig Watkins is exactly the caliber of DA that the Price commissioners court would appoint, and under your suggestion, they would have control of more than just his budget.

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