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FBI Investigating Dallas DA Craig Watkins — and U.S. Attorney Is Involved, Too, as Watkins Charged with Contempt of Court Last Week

It’s official:  the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the activities of the Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.  The Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas is reported to have its own files opened into Dallas DA Watkins’ activities, as well.

And this isn’t something that has just begun: reports are that the FBI Investigation has been going on for almost two years now as the FBI operation is 20 months old.

FBI Looking Into Dallas DA Watkins — Investigation Is “Active” and “Serious” — But How Big is It?

The Texas Lawbook apparently got the scoop on the FBI looking into Watkins and it’s being reported in the local news media that The Texas Lawbook has first-hand information from lawyers who know about the investigation details that the FBI (and the U.S. Attorney’s Office) are “very active” and “extremely serious” about finding out everything they can about District Attorney Craig Watkins’ decision to go after Al Hill III for mortgage fraud.

(For details on the Hill fraud charges, see our earlier post.)

Apparently, the federal agents are wondering what Watkins’ motivation was in filing criminal charges against Mr. Hill — was it because Lisa Blue asked him to do it?  was it because it would serve him well on re-election?  was it both?  something else?

News of the FBI looking into the reasons why charges were filed against Al Hill III and his wife (charges against her were dropped early on) first came to light when Lisa Blue’s attorney advised the Dallas trial court that the FBI’s inquiry was one of the reasons that Lisa Blue would be taking the Fifth Amendment in her testimony before the court that day.

However, many are questioning what is going on with the FBI looking into Dallas DA Watkins, since an investigation going twenty months back in time clearly goes further than this recent controversy over the Hill mortgage fraud charges.

If the FBI has been looking into Watkins since Summer 2011, then are they looking into more than this single fraud charge — and what spurred their interest in the Dallas District Attorney twenty months ago? The FBI isn’t saying.

Right now, no one really knows the scope of the FBI’s investigation into the Dallas County District Attorney except the FBI, apparently.  DA Watkins’ representatives are not sharing anything, but one of the attorneys working in the office is reporting that DA Watkins has not been given any official notification of a federal investigation.

Contempt Hearing: Dallas District Attorney Held in Contempt of Court by Texas District Judge

In the criminal mortgage fraud case brought by Dallas County DA Watkins against Al Hill III, the defense attorneys for Al Hill III subpoenaed the district attorney to take the stand and to provide evidence they told the judge would support Hill’s defense.  Lisa Blue was also subpoenaed for the same hearing, for the same reason.

Their argument:  the charges stemmed from prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Watkins, whose office they claimed had never before filed charges for mortgage fraud against anyone in a situation where there was no evidence of any financial loss.

At the initial February 2013 hearing, Watkins never entered the courtroom (he was sick).  Blue took the Fifth.  (Details here.)

When the hearing resumed last week, Watkins appeared and took the stand.  However, the Dallas County District Attorney didn’t provide substantive answers to the questions posed to him; instead, he refused to answer the defense lawyer’s questions on grounds of work product and attorney-client privileges.

So, Judge Levario found Watkins in contempt.

Reports are that FBI agents were in the courtroom that day, and that FBI investigators initiated conversations with Hill’s defense team.

Next up:  Texas Regional Administrative Law Judge John Ovard was asked to name a special judge to preside over the contempt proceedings, and yesterday Judge Ovard appointed a trial court judge from Wichita Falls, Bob Brotherton, Presiding Judge for the 30th Judicial District of Texas, to hear the DA Watkins’ contempt of court case.

Judge Brotherton is expected to travel to Dallas and preside over the proceedings here in Dallas County.

Meanwhile, the Mortgage Fraud Charges Against Hill III Have Been Dropped

As this whirlwind continues to build here in Dallas County, with a growing fascination into what the FBI is doing checking into the local county district attorney who just got cited with contempt, an important but less covered event also happened in the recent days.

What happened?  Seems District Judge Lena Levario summarily ended the criminal case against Al Hill III.   Judge Levario dismissed the mortgage fraud indictment against Hill III this week after Craig Watkins declined to take the stand in her court and give sworn testimony on his decision to seek an indictment against Hill from the Dallas grand jury.

There’s lots of drums beating about the charges against Al Hill III being re-filed, but whether that happens or not is something that they may be taking odds on in Vegas — for the skinny on all this chatter, check out the analysis over at the Texas Observer on the likelihood of the Dallas District Attorney’s Office re-filing those fraud charges against Mr. Hill.

So, as the brouhaha builds for Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, Texas’ Al Hill III has apparently won his battle, and maybe the war: he settled and got a multi-million dollar Big Oil inheritance; he got his legal fees from Lisa Blue and her two fellow lawyers settled down significantly in their fee fight; and he’s no longer facing criminal charges.

It’s not clear what’s happening with Craig Watkins these days, but odds are high that Al Hill III and his defense team are enjoying a very nice Spring Break 2013.

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