Judge dismisses case against Al Hill III after DA refuses to testify

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by JONATHAN BETZ and JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 7 at 11:31 PM

Click here to read live court updates from the reporter Jonathan Betz. 

DALLAS -- Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins entered a 7th-floor courtroom at the Frank Crowley Courthouse and took an unfamiliar seat Thursday afternoon -- the witness stand.

"Raise your right hand," Judge Lena Levario said. "You swear of affirm the testimony you're about to give will be nothing but the truth?"

"Yes," he replied.

Watkins was subpoenaed to answer questions on whether he did a political favor for prominent lawyer and Democratic fundraiser Lisa Blue by indicting oil heir Al Hill, III.

"I am refusing to answer any questions that you may pose because of my right as an attorney to have the privilege and to protect my work product," Watkins replied under oath.

That alone is rare, legal experts said, when a district attorney is called to testify about the inner-workings of his office. But after a couple of similar canned responses, Judge Levario did something else.

"You're ordered in contempt of court," she ruled.

Watkins was not jailed, but could still face a fine.

Even though he did not answer questions, his prosecutors on the Hill case did.

Defense attorneys honed in on handwritten notes in the case file of assistant D.A. Stephanie Martin, who revealed at least one early doubt on going after Hill.

"All of this evidence makes it smell really bad," Judge Levario said Thursday afternoon.

But more than anything, Hill's case pulled back the curtain on the D.A.'s office.

It revealed prosecutors evidently use presentations to pitch cases to supervisors before they weigh whether its worth pursuing.

After a brief break, Judge Levario ruled against prosecutors and granted a dismissal of the Hill's case, based on prosecutorial misconduct.

"We are very upset," said Heath Harris, First Assistant District Attorney. "This sets a terrible precedent. They're alleging prosecutorial misconduct. It doesn't just affect this case. It affects every case we start tomorrow, every case we start Monday morning."

Russell Wilson said Hill bought his way out of the case with an expensive legal team.

Still, prosecutors pledge they're not giving up on Hill. They promise to appeal, and if they win, this case could be reinstated.

But after such a stinging defeat, few expect this case will return to court.

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