Timing of Susan Hawk's resignation

DALLAS - Late last month, Susan Hawk mentioned to her second-in-command that she was thinking about resigning her position as district attorney.

It was Aug. 26. That is a key date because it was the deadline for putting it before the voters.

After that date, it would be up to Republican Gov. Greg Abbot to appointment a replacement for Hawk. Hawk was the lone Republican countywide officeholder in a Democratic County.

“I asked her to take that weekend to think it over,” Messina Madson, her second-in-command, told News 8. “Judge Hawk said she was trying but she didn’t know if she could do both [run the office and focus on her mental health]. I said it was only something she knew.”

One week later, on Sept. 2, she said Hawk told her she wanted to resign. She said she again told Hawk to think about it over the weekend.

“I tried not to influence her decision one way or the other to be honest,” Madson said.

Hawk announced on Tuesday that she sent a resignation letter to Abbott. His office received her letter Wednesday. The governor has since accepted her resignation, his office confirmed.

As of early Friday afternoon, his office had received two applications.

Former Republican District Judges Danny Clancy and Jennifer Balido both confirmed they submitted their applications to the governor. Both were previously appointed to judicial positions by then Gov. Rick Perry.

Madson said she plans to apply, but hasn't yet done so.

The governor’s office said they don't have a timeline for how long the process will take.

“We’re going to take the appropriate amount of time to ensure that we appoint someone who is fully qualified for the position,” said John Wittman, the governor’s spokesman.

Cal Jillson, an SMU political scientist, said he doesn't believe it was happenstance that Hawk’s resignation occurred after the deadline.

“I think it was the plan because people have been talking about this for a very long time,” Jillson said. “And everybody knew the deadline was on the 26th of August. When she came back a month ago and couldn’t face the press, couldn’t face the media, remained pretty much out of sight, it was clear it was just a matter of time.”

Madson told News 8 that she wasn't part of any plan to let the deadline pass. She said Hawk had fully intended to remain in office after she returned to work on Aug. 11.

Hawk had been away for three months seeking in-patient psychiatric treatment at hospitals in Houston and Arizona. It was her second lengthy stint away from the office seeking treatment for what’s been described as a mood disorder and depression.

“I was disappointed that our voters were not allowed the opportunity to make a choice,” said County Judge Clay Jenkins, a democrat. “I think it's cynical politics for people to think that Republicans cannot win.”

If Hawk had resigned before the deadline, then Republican and Democratic precinct chairs would have picked a candidate to run on the November ballot, he said.

Wade Emmert, chair of the Dallas County Republican Party, defended Hawk’s decision to resign after the deadline. He contends there just was not enough time for voters to vet the candidates.

“Those that are critical of the timing wanted a race to the courthouse,” he said earlier this week. “I think the better process is to let the governor make a measured decision.”

Jenkins said he doesn't believe that anyone who falls in one or more of the three categories should be considered:

  • Anyone who played a part in the cover story that she was out having back surgery when she was actually in drug rehab during the election.
  • Anyone who misled the public about her whereabouts during her time in office.
  • Anyone who played a role in denying voters the decision to pick the next district attorney. 

“The governor should find out and I hope he will choose someone else,” Jenkins said. "We shouldn’t have a person who was involved in any of those things getting that $221,000 a year job with those benefits.”

Jillson thinks the timing of the resignation is partly because the legal community does not believe voters know enough about candidates to make a good choice. He pointed out that about half of the judicial officeholders in the state were initially appointed by the governor. Eighty percent of judges stand for election unopposed, he said.

“Susan Hawk had a choice to make and she knew what choice she was making,” Jillson said. “It’s not an uncommon thing for a member of the legal community in Texas to do, but it is unfortunate.”

He said that if the post had been put on the November ballot, it most certainly would have gone to a Democrat. The only reason Hawk won in November 2014 was because a faction of the Democratic party could no longer support District Attorney Craig Watkins, he said.

“I would almost prefer that he continued Madson because no Republican is going to have a very good chance of holding that office in two years,” he said.

Madson may be a long shot because voting records show she voted in Democratic primaries in 2014 and 2016, according to The Dallas Morning News. Madson told the news that she cast her votes in the Democratic primary so she could vote for the county’s judges.

She has been registered to vote since 2012, the News reported.

“Abbott is looking forward to doing this because it is a plum and he is going to be able to give it to somebody,” he said.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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