Former staffers question stability of new Dallas DA

Susan Hawk was sworn in on January 1, but there's already been a major staff shakeup.

DALLAS — After just 83 days as Dallas County's district attorney, there are troubling signs that all is not well at the office of Susan Hawk.

Turbulence and tumult at the highest levels spilled out into public view this week as Hawk, a Republican, fired her second-in-command, First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye. In February, Hawk forced out another of her top assistants, former state district judge Jennifer Balido.

The forced departures — particularly Wirskye's — sent shock waves through the courthouse. Many had welcomed Hawk's defeat of incumbent Craig Watkins last fall, believing that it would bring stability and accountability back to a troubled DA's office.

"I think it's fair to say the office was paralyzed the last few weeks by paranoia," said Wirskye, a Republican who staunchly supported Hawk during the campaign and served as a key advisor. "There was a high level of suspicion that just made things unworkable."

Wirskye and Balido described an atmosphere of fear, suspicion and distrust under Hawk's leadership. Both questioned her competency and stability to lead the office.

Hawk believed people were talking about her and hiding things from her, Balido said.

"I observed a lot of indecisiveness, a lot of irrationality, a lot of fear that was not based on anything that I could see would be rational," said Balido, a Republican who was twice appointed to judicial posts by Gov. Rick Perry.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hawk declined to address the comments of her former staffers, saying she did not see a "need to discuss this further" and added that she was "focused on moving forward with the mission of this office."

She also wished both of them well.

One day earlier, Hawk said in an interview that she had the utmost respect for Wirskye, but said they simply did not get along well enough to continue working together. She said she fired him because he refused to resign.

Balido, Hawk said, was not the right fit for the job.

"Transition is difficult," the district attorney added. "As you can imagine, in the first 90 days of an administration, people are going to say things. People are going to talk."

When Hawk hired Wirskye, it had been seen as a good sign by many in courthouse circles. 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, who was 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."

"We were very excited," Wirskye said. "We had high hopes to get in office and make things happen."

Balido, who had been hired to take over the DA's public integrity unit, says she brought her husband and youngest daughter to share in the moment.

"I was feeling proud and just so excited," she said.

Two days after taking office, Hawk asked Balido to take over the job overseeing the office's finances and budget, which had been left in disarray by the Watkins administration.

"She said, 'We need somebody in there that I can trust,'" Balido recalled. "I said, 'Well, it's not really in my wheelhouse, but whatever you need me to do, I'm on board 100 percent.'"

But just weeks into the job, Balido said she began seeing a disturbing side of Susan Hawk.

"The mood swings that at first would kind of change day-to-day, but later on it would be from hour-to-hour or minute-to-minute," Balido said.

At one point, she said Hawk questioned why she and Wirskye were talking behind closed doors.

"She would make a comment, 'Y'all are always behind closed doors, what is going on?'" Balido recalled. "We were like, 'Well, we're talking about personnel matters.' I said, 'You know, Bill's in chain-of-command. I've got to talk to him.'"

It wasn't long before Hawk changed the organizational chart, ordering Balido to report directly to her rather than to Wirskye.

"She said, 'I'm taking you out of Bill's chain-of-command, so now you don't have a reason to talk to him any more,' and I thought that's kind of odd," Balido said.

On another occasion, she said Hawk called her in and demanded that she swear 100 percent loyalty to her.

"It is odd behavior, when — in my view — I haven't done anything to show that I'm not loyal," Balido said.

On her final day, Balido said she was meeting with another high level staffer when Hawk walked in and questioned what they were talking about.

Balido said Hawk accused her of failing to tell her about changes that were made to a court filing. Balido said she had just found out about the changes right before Hawk walked in, and didn't have a chance to tell her.

Later that day, Hawk asked for Balido's resignation.

"I'm a citizen of Dallas County. I'm a Republican. I want Susan Hawk to do well," Balido said. "I still do. I have no hard feelings about her ... I don't know how she is going to do well if she cannot trust anyone that is working for her, and that makes me sad... and it makes me scared."

Wirskye said he's disappointed on a personal level that he and Hawk couldn't follow through on what he thought was a shared vision for the DA's office.

"Dallas County deserves to have someone elected DA who is both stable and competent," he said.

Asked if Dallas has that now, he responded: "In my opinion, no."


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