Dallas DA Susan Hawk announces resignation

Susan Hawk resigns

 

DALLAS — After two lengthy leaves of absence and days of speculation, Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk announced her resignation on Tuesday.

Hawk's resignation comes one week after the deadline that would allow voters to pick her replacement in November's general election. It will now be up to Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint a replacement to serve out the rest of her term.

"I appreciate the grace I've been shown as I've tried to balance my health and my duties," Hawk wrote in a letter to Gov. Abbott, released to DA staff Tuesday afternoon. "This has been a very difficult process for me as I've dedicated my life to serving our criminal justice system."

She added: "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 of our office over the past 20 months..."

The governor's office acknowledged the letter Tuesday afternoon, promising to "begin accepting applications and take the appropriate time to ensure the replacement is best suited to serve the citizens of Dallas County," Press Secretary John Wittman said.

A large part of Hawk's time in office was spent battling depression and mood disorders, which most recently spurred a call from several prominent lawyers calling on her to step down.

Mark Haney, one of the two attorneys who filed a petition to force Hawk to resign or be removed from office in October 2015, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon applauding the DA's decision to step down.

"I am sorry that Ms. Hawk is unable to serve out her term as Dallas District Attorney," Haney said in his statement. "I think it is concerning that she has taken so long to recognize that she was unfit for the office. I think she did a disservice to the citizens of the county when she ran for the office knowing that she was suffering from acute mental illness. It was our knowledge of her condition and her inability to perform that drove our efforts to have her removed from office last year."

MORE: Reports on Susan Hawk 

Hawk’s office announced that she had returned to work earlier this month after spending 12 weeks away getting inpatient mental health treatment at facilities in Houston and Arizona. Since the announcement of her return, Hawk hasn't been seen in the courthouse and has denied interview requests.

For days, rumors have been flying around the legal community that she was stepping down or that she was back in treatment.

Security access records obtained through open records indicate that since her office announced her return to work on Aug. 11 that she has been at work at the courthouse on an irregular basis. There was no usage recorded on her card Aug. 11. Her card was used on Friday, Aug. 12 and Aug. 15 through Aug. 18.

There was no usage on Friday, Aug. 19 nor on the following week of Aug. 22 through Aug. 26.

Records were not available last week because people who normally pull the records are out of the office. Hawk’s office hasn't yet responded to requests about whether she was in the office this week.

Hawk began contacting people Tuesday morning letting them know that she had decided to resign. 

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, there was a meeting of DA employees in the central jury room. It lasted less than a minute. Hawk wasn’t there. Sources tell News 8 that they do not know what the governor’s timeline for announcement a replacement for Hawk.

“It’s a sad day obviously but it’s probably for the best for her own personal and mental health and for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office,” said Toby Shook, a former prosecutor and one-time Republican candidate for DA.

Shook was a key supporter in Hawk’s DA bid.

“We worked very hard on the campaign and held out a lot of hope so it’s sad that she didn’t fulfill her destiny in that regard,” Shook said. “The first thought is she needs to get well and everybody wishes her well in that.”

Hawk took office to great fanfare in January 2015. When she beat incumbent Democratic District Attorney Craig Watkins, she was the first Republican to win a countywide race since 2004.

But things quickly unraveled.

There was a string of controversial firings – including of her highly respected second in command Bill Wirskye and former Republican District Judge Jennifer Balido -- shortly after she took office and then reports of paranoid, bizarre behavior.

In March 2015, Hawk admitted her problems began as early as her campaign for office. She admitted that in late 2013 she sought treatment in Arizona over her use of prescription drugs, which she said were prescribed for a bad back.

That summer, Hawk disappeared from the courthouse. Friends initially lied, saying she was merely away on vacation. But as the courthouse speculation and media frenzy intensified, Hawk finally acknowledged she was suffering from serous depression and had gone into treatment at a Houston psychiatric hospital.

Hawk returned to work in Oct. 1, 2015 after being away for about nine weeks. She returned to work, giving a series of media interviews.

“I'm well now,” she told News 8. “Just give me the opportunity to show that I am. I would step down if I couldn't do it. I know the difference between being well and not being well.”

In October of 2015, Cindy Stormer, a former high-ranking prosecutor fired by Hawk, went as far as to file a petition for her removal from office. At the time, Stormer called Hawk a "threat to Dallas County" due to her drug addiction, mental illness and alleged paranoid delusions. In January, Bexar County Judge David Peeples dismissed the suit, allowing Hawk to remain as the district attorney.

But in May, Hawk again began cancelling public appearances, prompting renewed questions about her status. Only then did the DA’s office issue a statement acknowledging that she was back in treatment.
County access card records show in the months prior to going out on leave in May, she was only reporting to work to her $218,000-a-year job on a sporadic basis. Prior to Aug. 11, Hawk has reported to work at the courthouse just 66 days this year.

“It’s a sad day for her,” said Commissioner Mike Cantrell, the lone Republican on the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court. “I think all of us knew that, at some point, she’s either going to get better a whole lot quicker or she’d make some type of announcement.”

The records are not a perfect accounting of Hawk’s work schedule, in that they do not account for situations when she may have worked away from the office, such as attending a conference or doing a speaking engagement. But they do provide a pretty good reflection of how often she was on the job.

Already names of potential candidate for DA are surfacing. They include:

  • Bill Wirskye, who was Hawk’s second in command for about three months. He is a well-respected prosecutor who served as a lead prosecutor on the Kaufman County DA killings and currently serves as a top prosecutor in Collin County.
  • Jennifer Balido, who was twice appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry to state district posts. She served for about six weeks in Hawk’s administration.
  • Danny Clancy, a former prosecutor who was a Republican candidate for DA in 2010.
  • Messina Madson, Hawk’s current second in command who has been keeping the office running while her boss was away for long periods of time.

“The big question is, who's going to be the new DA, so it will reignite the courthouse rumor mill in full swing,” Shook said. “There will be many qualified candidates that will put their name in. I think the governor needs to appoint someone with lots of experience with law enforcement, prosecutorial experience, and management experience –- someone whose on the leading edge of criminal justice issues that can lead the office.”

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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