DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk has resigned a month after returning to work following her third inpatient treatment for mental illness.
Hawk was in and out of her office since July of last year in order to seek treatment for severe depression. She was elected to the job in November 2014 after narrowly defeating former district attorney Craig Watkins.
In her letter of resignation to Governor Abbott, Hawk says her health needs her undivided attention. She writes of trying to balance her health with her duties. Hawk expresses how difficult the process has been given her dedication to serving the criminal justice system.
The letter reads in part: “I believe our office is making a difference and I want to continue that good work. But last fall upon returning from treatment, I made a commitment to step away from 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.
Hawk was first recognized as missing from office in late August of last year. When pressed for answers, her political advisor said that Hawk was taking a much-needed vacation after working long hours and most weekends throughout her first months on the job. She had already been absent since late July.
Within a matter of days, however, the truth came out. Hawk admitted in a written statement, “I have taken a break from work in an attempt to work through a serious episode of depression.” She added that, “I want, and fully expect, to be able to resume my duties as District Attorney once I’ve recovered from this illness.”
Hawk’s time away from work was extended to the beginning of October. “I’m excited to be back at work,” Hawk said upon her return to the Dallas office. “I’ve missed the courthouse. I’ve missed by colleagues. These past nine weeks have been tough, but I’m stronger and healther than I’ve ever been.”
But this was not Hawk’s first stint at a rehabilitation facility. She had previously sought treatment in Phoenix three years ago to stop taking prescribed pain medication for a slipped vertebra. And she would soon return to rehab as part of her battle with depression.
A statement released in May explained that Hawk was seeking new treatment in Arizona for her mental health issues. Records showed that she worked only two days that month. “Mental illness is a fluid and dynamic disease that calls for unexpected and prolonged treatment,” Hawk said. “I did not choose this disease, but I am choosing to treat it aggressively.”
In addition to her extended time away from the office, Hawk’s tenure has been marked by controversy and drama. She quickly fired first assistant Bill Wirskye and administrative chief Jennifer Balido — once her most trusted workers — alleging that they were out to get her. Then, while Hawk was away, first assistant Messina Madson fired top-ranking prosecutor Cindy Stormer.
Hawk also dismantled her office’s new digital forensics lab, designed to speed up criminal cases. She did, however, start a new program aimed at helping non-violent offenders with mental illnesses stay out of jail. It was part of her work that also seeks to help young non-violent offenders with a similar program.
Throughout all of this, Hawk’s opponents called for the district attorney to resign from her position. A published report stated that Hawk actually wanted to resign back in July of last year, before her depression battle became public, after having suicidal thoughts. She was said to have told political consultant Mari Woodlief that she wanted to die — and considered using sleeping pills or a blow dryer cord to do so.
Stormer filed a petition asking a judge to remove Hawk from office, saying that her depression and severe mental illness made her incapable of holding the job. Wirskye and Balido joined Stormer’s efforts, but Judge David Peeples ruled in favor of Hawk and dismissed the case.
A letter from national, state and local health agencies blasted the petition and the push to oust Hawk from office, calling it an act of “discrimination” and “public humiliation,” and that it was “furthering the stigma of illnesses that impact tens of millions of Americans.”
Hawk’s most recent round of treatment included decreasing her time in the public eye. She returned to work again last month and seemed positive about the future. “Maintaining optimal mental health will always be a priority. Mental illness is a lifelong disease,” Hawk said. “I look forward to once again working with my staff to make Dallas County safe and thriving.”
But something obviously changed since that time. Sources started speculating about Hawk’s resignation during the long Labor Day weekend. It will now be up to Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint a new district attorney for Dallas County. That person will hold the position until the next election in November 2018. The new elected district attorney will take office in January 2019.
The Dallas Police Association was supportive of Hawk’s decision to step down. DPA President Ron Pinkston released the following statement:
“The Dallas Police Association supports Susan Hawk and her decision to step down as the Dallas County District Attorney to continue her treatment for depression. It’s our hope and prayer that Susan’s decision to resign will allow her to focus 100% of her time and effort on her recovery. The District Attorney’s office is vital to protecting the families of Dallas County and we urge Governor Abbott to appoint someone who shares Susan’s commitment to justice and public safety.”
Speaking to the DPA’s suggestion to Governor Abbott on who should replace Hawk, Press Secretary for the Texas Governor’s Office, John Wittman sent the following comment after Hawk’s announcement:
“Upon receipt of Susan Hawk’s resignation letter, the Governor’s Appointments Office will begin accepting applications and will take the appropriate time to ensure the replacement is the best suited to serve the citizens of Dallas County.”