DALLAS – As she was seeking the Republican nomination for Dallas County district attorney, Susan Hawk disappeared from the campaign trail in the fall of 2013, saying she was having back surgery.
"She was kind of missing in action," said Dallas attorney Tom Nowak, her Republican opponent. "She was gone from various events that I would have expected to see her at."
Under fire, the DA acknowledged Friday that she was actually getting treatment to stop taking prescription drugs during that time.
"I have a serious back condition," Hawk said in a statement. "A doctor prescribed me medicine. Over a year-and-a-half ago, I decided I did not want to take it anymore, and I got help to quit taking it and haven't taken any since."
Hawk, who was sworn in Jan. 1, did not respond to a request to explain why she previously claimed she was having back surgery.
"If you're lying to the public, then I have problems with that," Nowak said.
It was Hawk's abrupt Monday firing of First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye - a well-respected prosecutor and longtime friend who helped get her elected - that revealed turbulence and discussion at the highest levels of the DA's office.
She had already forced out another high-ranking prosecutor, former Republican Judge Jennifer Balido, after just six weeks on the job. Balido was her administrative chief overseeing the budget.
In Friday's statement, Hawk called Wirskye a "disgruntled former employee" and said the only reason she was talking "about this now is to end his efforts to attack my character in retaliation to his firing."
Moments after Hawk released her statement, Wirskye responded in a statement that he wished her "success both personally and professionally."
He further stated that Hawk had "lodged an unfair and untrue accusation of criminal conduct at me."
"She later withdraw those accusation against me," he wrote, declining to comment further.
Wirskye didn't detail the nature of the accusation, but those familiar with the situation say that Hawk accused Wirskye of taking money from state forfeiture funds, having a key made at a locksmith, and then using it to break into her home and steal a risqué photo.
Earlier this week, Hawk denied the accusations and called them "gossip."
"I've not accused him of breaking into my home, no," Hawk said. "I've talked to him about different situations that have happened because he was my first assistant."
Hawk has previously said that she fired Wirskye because their personalities clashed. She said she asked Balido to leave because she wasn't right for the job.
This week, Wirskye, Balido, and others familiar with the office described Hawk as exhibiting extreme paranoia, and creating an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and mistrust. Both questioned her competency and stability to lead that office.
Balido characterized Hawk's behavior to News 8 as odd and paranoid.
She described how Hawk became paranoid about her and Wirskye meeting behind closed doors. So paranoid, that she removed Wirskye from Balido's chain of command and had her report directly to her. Balido said they were merely meeting about personnel matters.
Balido also said at one point, Hawk called her into her office and demanded that she say that she was 100-percent loyal.
"She was paranoid that I, personally, was hiding stuff from her and not telling her things," said Balido, who was twice appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry to judicial posts. "I observed a lot of indecisiveness, a lot of irrationality, a lot of fear that was not based on anything that I could see that would be rational."
The angry public fallout between Wirskye and Hawk comes as surprise to many.
His was seen as a top-notch hiring because he had previously worked in the DA's office and had recently gained national recognition for heading up the investigation and prosecution of Eric Williams, the former justice of the peace found guilty of killing Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife, and a top county prosecutor.
Wirskye served as the exuberant master of ceremonies for Hawk's swearing-in. At that ceremony, he said he hoped to help write a "new chapter in the Dallas County DA's office."
In an interview with News 8 earlier this week, Wirskye said he did not believe Hawk was stable nor competent currently to do the job.
"It should really scare people in Dallas County," Nowak said. "Bill is one of the people who has respect from all corners of the legal community. [...] He wouldn't say that without good cause. I've known him for a number of years and it would take an extreme incident - something that really does stop him in his tracks - for him to come out and say that publicly."
Given the events of this week, there is tremendous concern in courthouse circles about the leadership of this district attorney's office. A lot of people are worried about what this means for justice in Dallas County.
Nowak and others said rank-and-file prosecutors are now once again fearful that they could lose their jobs at any moment.
"Nothing is happening," he said. "Criminal justice is a standstill right now in Dallas County."