DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Update: Hawk’s former First Assistant DA Bill Wirskye, has recently decided he also wants the job. Wirskye is currently the First Assistant DA in Collin County.
In her resignation letter to Governor Greg Abbott, Hawk said, “It is with a heavy heart that I must tender my resignation as Dallas County District Attorney. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve this office and the citizens of Dallas County, but my health needs my undivided attention.”
Since taking office in January, 2015, Hawk has taken extensive leave twice to seek treatment for depression and other mental health illnesses.
Now, 18 months later, Hawk told the Governor, she could no longer serve her full four year term. “This has been a very difficult process for me as I’ve dedicated my life to serving our criminal justice system. Last fall, upon my return from treatment, I made a commitment to step away from the 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.”
A former Dallas County prosecutor and Hawk ally, Toby Shook shared in her disappointment. “It’s a sad day obviously, worked hard on Susan’s campaign, had a lot of hope she’d be a great DA and unfortunately, she had mental health issues get in the way. I think she fought a hard battle.”
Wade Emmert, a former chairman of the Dallas County Republican party said, “I think that (Hawk’s resignation) shows not only courage on her part, but I think it also shows a lot of respect for the citizens of Dallas County.”
Newly elected Dallas County Republican party chairman Phillip Huffines issued a statement saying, “I think the decision Susan took is what’s best for her family and the citizens of Dallas County. The job of defending liberty and serving the people of Dallas is one that should be taken seriously, and I salute Susan’s willingness to place herself in the public spotlight.”
Hawk survived a civil lawsuit filed last October by one of her former top administrators, Cindy Stormer, to remove her from office.
Stormer hasn’t responded to CBS11’s efforts to get a comment, but on Tuesday, one of her attorneys, Mark Haney, issued a statement saying, “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. We hope she gets the help she needs for her condition, and that Dallas County finally has a qualified office holder who can do the job.”
Hawk’s resignation serves as another shake-up to the office, one of the largest district attorneys’ offices in the nation. Had she stepped down before August 26, voters would have decided who the next DA would be in a special election.
Because her announcement came afterwards, Governor Greg Abbott will appoint Hawk’s successor.
John Wittman, Governor Abbott’s Press Secretary issued a statement saying, “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.”
Some Dallas Republicans said they’re seeking the Governor’s appointment. They include Vickers Cunningham, a former Dallas County prosecutor and criminal court judge who ran unsuccessfully for DA against Democrat Craig Watkins in 2006. Another candidate for the job is Danny Clancy, a former Dallas County prosecutor and judge who ran for DA against Watkins in 2010, but lost. Jennifer Balido also said she will be applying to the Governor’s office for the DA’s job. She worked as a top administrator for Hawk until she was fired last year.
Hawk’s former First Assistant DA Bill Wirskye, who she fired, was also being mentioned as a potential candidate.
Wirskye served as the lead special prosecutor in the Kaufman County murder case, in which Eric Williams was convicted and now sits on death row.
In a statement, Wirskye said, “I’m honored and humbled by the inquiries from people urging me to seek the Governor’s appointment. But I have not made that decision yet.”
Hawk’s current First Assistant Messina Madson, who has run the office in Hawk’s absences, is also identified in legal circles as a potential candidate to replace her former boss. She has confirmed that she is going to apply to the Governor’s office for the district attorney job.
On Wednesday, former Dallas County criminal court judge Dianne Jones McVay added her name to the list of people who will apply for the Governor’s appointment as DA. She has also served as a former federal and Dallas County prosecutor and as an assistant federal public defender. Jones McVay is an attorney in Dallas.
Democrats from Dallas County and across the state criticized the timing of Hawk’s announcement.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement, “The timing of the resignation is very unfortunate for Dallas County voters because it is coming just days after the ballot submission deadline. Wherever possible, the voters – not the politicians – should decide who represents them in elected office. Because of the timing of the resignation, a political appointee chosen by Governor Abbott will fill the position for over two years.”
Texas Democratic Party executive director Crystal Perkins stated, “The timing of this decision is purely political. It could not be clearer: Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans have no regard for the voters of Dallas County.”
Matt Angle, director of the left-leaning Lone Star Project, issued a statement that read in part, “Rather than unilaterally appointing a new DA, Governor Abbott should consult with Dallas County elected officials and choose a person who has their support, and reflects the views and concerns of Dallas County voters. Alternatively, Governor Abbott should name a person who serves the remainder of Ms. Hawk’s term but pledges to not seek election in 2018.”
Dallas County Republican party chair Phillip Huffines said, “I pledge to work with whomever Governor Abbott chooses as Susan’s successor, and will work hard to ensure we appoint a strong Republican to replace Susan.”
Wade Emmert, the Dallas County Republican Party’s former chair says, “I think that what you need is someone to come in who has strong management abilities, someone who can project calm in very stressful situations and someone who can connect with the community.”
Ron Pinkston, President of the Dallas Police Association stated, “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. We urge Governor Abbott to appoint someone who shares Susan’s commitment to justice and public safety.”
Hawk told Governor Abbott, “I spent the first six months of my tenure assembling what I believe is a leadership team for our DA’s office that is among the best in the nation. The office is running better than ever, and it’s my hope that this team can stay together and move forward seamlessly with a new leader.”
Toby Shook, who served under three Dallas County DA’s who’s now in private practice, said he wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Dallas County prosecutors are concerned. “Prosecutors are always nervous when there’s change. I went through three administration changes and that’s just normal, especially the higher up you are, the more nervous you get.”