Greg Abbott Shoots Down Local Rep's Call for Independent Watkins Investigation

Categories: Politics

Thumbnail image for Craig_Watkins_061910.jpg
Sam Merten
Craig Watkins
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott rejected a request from Republican state Representative Jason Villalba to investigate Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' use of asset forfeiture funds to make good on a February 2013 traffic accident Watkins caused. Abbott told Villalba that he can't initiate an investigation based solely on a request from a legislator.

That doesn't mean Villalba is giving up just yet.

Debbie Denmon, spokeswoman for Watkins, says the district attorney was driving a county SUV to a law enforcement gathering to give a speech. On the Dallas North Tollway, Watkins glanced at his speech, Denmon says, and rear-ended another vehicle. Repairs to both vehicles, as well as the other driver's medical bills, were paid with forfeiture funds Watkins controls.

"District Attorney Watkins' behavior demonstrates a complete disregard for the policies put in place to protect the use of these funds. As a sworn official whose duty is to uphold the law, his blatant disregard for the rules that govern his office is just unacceptable," Villalba said in a press release, which was followed less than an hour later by a statement from Judge Susan Hawk, Watkins' Republican opponent as he seeks reelection in November.

Villalba has stated repeatedly over the last week that he disapproves of partisan investigations while affirming his support for Governor Rick Perry, who was indicted last week on charges he abused his office.

Hawk says that even if Watkins' actions weren't criminal, they were at least reckless. Hawk says she regrets that Dallasites have "have to waste the time and energy of any law enforcement office to investigate our own district attorney."

State law allows forfeiture funds to be used as Watkins did, Denmon says. Watkins used forfeiture money for two reasons: The wreck was his fault and he wanted to make the other driver whole, and he didn't want to use taxpayer money to pay for his mistake. Watkins' use of forfeiture assets has been audited each year he's been in office, she says, and nothing improper has ever been discovered.

"[The forfeiture statute] is a broad statute and it does not say anywhere that you cannot use it for this," Denmon says. "When you say you can use it for vehicles and equipment, and you can use it for legal fees and court costs and related costs, this fits within that."

Mark Littlefield, a consultant for Watkins' re-election bid says both Villalba's proposed investigation and Hawk's response were purely political.

"It's not the first time that [Hawk] has made false accusations about Watkins and typically that's just campaign stuff. It happens," Littlefield says, "but in this county, with these voters and specifically with this office, I think that someone who will do anything to get in office and will make false accusations, that specifically is not something that Dallas voters want to see in their DA. We've had a bad history with that and we don't want to see it again."

Forfeiture laws aren't the easiest topic to understand, but it's imperative that a district attorney does, because the use of the money is so scrutinized, Littlefield says.

"A Republican state rep or a district judge who does more political stuff than she does anything else, yeah I'm not surprised they don't know about forfeiture accounts and they make mistakes when they talk about it and pass judgement. They're not talking about the law; they're talking about politics," he says.

Watkins has been transparent throughout the process, Littlefield claims.

"Someone who stops, gets out of the car, checks on the victim, talks to the cops and says 'Man, I have messed up, I was on my phone, this is my fault,' someone who takes the police report to the county administrator, the one who sends a letter to the county administrator as soon as they figure out a claim has been filed. If Craig Watkins is trying to cover up this accident, he's doing a piss-poor job of it," he says.

"Piss-poor" might be a bit harsh, considering that WFAA first broke news of Watkins' accident and his use forfeiture funds last week, about 18 months after the accident happened. As for transparent, WFAA also reported that Watkins' settlement with the driver of the other vehicle included a secrecy clause that would have required the man to pay back $40,000 if he talked to the press. That clause was included in the settlement by mistake, a lawyer in Watkins' office now says. The district attorney also failed to follow policy for reporting an accident involving county property.

Villalba told The Dallas Morning News Tuesday afternoon that he wants the Texas state auditor to look into the matter and hopes that office will refer the matter to the attorney general.


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23 comments
mcdallas
mcdallas

Or, better yet, the FBI...

dfw_maverick
dfw_maverick

Why isn't an insurance company paying for this instead of the "slush fund"?  It smells very fishy.

WaitWhat
WaitWhat

The real problem is that now they now need to find at least $40,000 to seize to replenish their slush fund.  It's such a glaring conflict of interest, I can't believe it's legal.
 

They're privateers, sanctioned pirates, free to take money at gunpoint, as long as they kick up a percentage of their plunder, and rob the right people.
 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privateer

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

There is no question the accident was the fault of Watkins, both because he rear-ended the other car, and because he admits to being self-distracted READING while driving on the Tollway.


There's no need for another investigation.  Watkins caused the accident, and he used county money to pay for it instead of his own money. 

The county isn't any more responsible for Watkins unsafe driving habits than the State of Texas was for Ann Richards drinking and some unseemly habits. 



Chuck_Schick
Chuck_Schick

Maybe Abbott would investigate if he wasn't so busy defending unconstitutional marriage amendments.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

'Man, I have messed up, I was on my phone, this is my fault,' Wow - I can't imagine that I am the only person that never thought I would hear these words come out of the mouth of a public official.

However, as thrilled as I am to see Watkins taking responsibility for his actions, I can't help but think to myself, "What an idiot." Any lawyer worth his salt would have known and would have advised their client to just shut the hell up after any traffic incident, and certainly not admit to any blame.

James080
James080

Does anyone have DA Watkin's cell phone number and his travel schedule?

Anon.
Anon.

The next legislative session will start soon. Perhaps the Representative should consider some clarifying language regarding the use of these kinds of funds?

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Just another moron on the road doing everything but paying attention to the road.

Did he even get a citation? 

I mean a traffic citation, not an award.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

A $40K shut-up clause included "by mistake". Nope, not buying it, and you can bet the other driver took it the same way.

But now that the victim has been freed to speak, it would be interesting to know what kind of info is worth a $40K protective buffer.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@dfw_maverick The County is self-insured.  Watkins should have given this to his own insurance company.  This was a negligent collision on his part, and the county or the fund shouldn't have to pay.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@bvckvs @James080 I think you're joking.  Watkins is not a diplomat, and wouldn't be protected by DPD.  It's more like the Sheriff's Department provides security. 


I never even heard of the "Diplomatic Security Corps" as a unit under the Chief of Police in Dallas.  We don't have many diplomats here.

Anon.
Anon.

Don't be too sure. One of the favorite pastimes of the legislature is putting additional restrictions on cities and counties.

secretburrito
secretburrito

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @TheRuddSki 

Yep, what a cash windfall by the lucky person who gets rear-ended by him (while he's in the course of official business), and I bet that guy didn't have to report it as income to the IRS especially seeing how there was a non-disclosure clause.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@TPFKAP

If I were him, I'd be driving extra-careful now that this is out.

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