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High Court Rules On Emergency Request, A Year Later

L.P. Phillips for 1080 KRLD | CBSDFW.COM
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. (credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. (credit: CBSDFW.COM)

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DALLAS, Texas (1080 KRLD) – Call it justice delayed. More than a year after the Dallas County District Attorney’s office asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to step into the infamous contempt of court case, a ruling has come down.

The High Court today declined to consider whether to intercede in the misconduct hearing involving District Attorney Craig Watkins.

It doesn’t matter much.  The case ended in August 2013.

The legal dustup is a precedent-setting case that pitted Watkins and his office against Dallas oil heir Albert Hill III.  Lawyers for Hill charged that Watkins had Hill indicted for mortgage fraud as a pay-back to political donor Lisa Blue.  Blue had been in a dispute with Hill over legal fees in an unrelated matter.

In March of 2013, Judge Lena Levario held a hearing and ordered Watkins to answer questions about the indictment.

Before taking the stand, Watkins’ assistants tried numerous legal strategies to prevent the testimony, including appeals to the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas and, when that was denied, to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.

But while an immediate ruling was sought, none was rendered.

“There’s no way to force them to issue a ruling in a certain time.” said Dallas County Appellate Division Chief Mike Casillas.

Watkins refused to testify, asserting his privilege as a sitting District Attorney.  Levario found Watkins in contempt.  The Court of Criminal Appeals still didn’t rule.

Eventually, the District Attorney’s office appealed the ruling and Wichita Falls Judge Bob Brotherton was brought in to hear arguments.

In August Brotherton ruled Watkins was within his rights and dismissed the contempt citation.

But the ruling that Watkins was waiting for didn’t come until now.  And the ruling was without a written order, leaving all the parties to guess whether the High Court dismissed the claim because it’s moot, or whether it took the side of Hill’s attorneys.  Either way the ruling will have no effect on the case.

“This was a very unique and complex set of facts.” says Castillo.  “I can’t think of another case I’ve seen in my 20 plus years with a similar set of facts.”

Attorneys for Hill did not have comment.

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