New Dallas County DA Has Her First Chance to Show How She Handles a Potential Scandal
The tenure of former Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins was fairly remarkable in its arc. The revered prosecutor went from the Dallas Morning News’ 2008 Texan of the Year (nationally recognized for his commitment to both prosecuting suspects and investigating the potential innocence of people already behind bars) to a scandalized politician and the first Democrat to lose a countywide position in Dallas in a decade.
Now, of course, Susan Hawk is the DA in Dallas, after defeating Watkins in November—and Hawk has a potential scandal of her own to contend with.
One of the first issues that began casting doubt on Watkins involved a 2010 investigation of two Sheriff’s Department constables who had a suspiciously close relationship with a towing company. Watkins was accused of failing to investigate the officers (county commissioners eventually hired an independent investigator). Subsequent issues involving the use of forfeiture funds and clashes with judges eventually led to a narrative about Watkins that helped torpedo his career.
How the District Attorney handles allegations of criminal misconduct by other law enforcement officials has always been an important issue, of course, but in 2015, the perception that the system goes very easy on its own has become the flashpoint of a national movement. And Hawk, newly inaugurated as DA, can demonstrate how she takes things right off the bat: A Dallas County Assistant District Attorney was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated over the weekend.
Police stopped Justin Avery Moore, an employee of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, about 2:45 a.m. in the 4200 block of Marvin D. Love Freeway, near West Ledbetter Drive, in Central Oak Cliff.
Moore, who turns 28 on Monday, was arrested and transported to the Dallas County jail. He has been released on bond.
District Attorney Susan Hawk said Moore will be suspended without pay until the facts surrounding his arrest are reviewed.
A suspension without pay immediately upon arrest is the sort of move that indicates that Hawk would like to start her tenure off without the perception that she’s softer on law enforcement officials than she is on the general public, which is a good start. (At the very least, it beats the “I didn’t ask for the video, and it’s somebody else’s problem” response that Rene Guerra, Hawk’s counterpart in Hidalgo County, offered in December when charges against Judge Nora Longoria were dismissed.)
Of course, it’s also probably true that Hawk has little reason to risk anything for Moore, who was hired by the office when Watkins held it last year, shortly out of law school. And it’s certainly true that, if a DA is going to expend political capital defending an ADA who was arrested on DWI charges, she would probably pick one whose arrest report features less shouting that the black officer who arrested him is an “Uncle Tom,” less accusing the white officers of being KKK members, and definitely less threatening of the jobs of the arresting officers. How one comports oneself during a DWI stop is a factor in every case, and—as Austin DA Rosemary Lehmberg learned in 2013—threatening the officers with the implication that the prosecutor is above the law doesn’t tend to play well to the public (or, indeed, the Governor).
Still, even if Moore was a Watkins hire, and the circumstances of his arrest made him a tough suspect for the newly-elected DA to stand up for even if she were inclined to, it’s probably safe to say that Hawk would have much preferred not to have an issue like this come up her first week on the job.
On the other hand, it does provide her with an opportunity to draw some distinction between the way she handles a potential scandal, versus the way her predecessor did. In a place with the history of corruption that Dallas has, that could turn out to be useful, too.