DALLAS -- Craig Watkins is not only the District Attorney. He's also the attorney for the entity called Dallas County.

Late last year, when his office settled an accident claim over a crash involving Watkins himself, he did so without notifying his client, the county, and that's not going over well in some quarters.

'In my opinion, they absolutely did not have that authority,' said County Commissioner Mike Cantrell, who is the lone Republican on the five-member court. 'The entire time that I've been on the court - and I've been on the court for 20 years - never have I seen this happen.'

Cantrell and legal experts say they don't believe Watkins could legally bind the county to a settlement without notifying and getting approval from commissioners. It wasn't until Thursday that the DA's office formally notified commissioners about the settlement.

Cantrell is putting the issue on the agenda for public discussion later this month.

Last February, Watkins rear-ended a car while using his cell phone on the Dallas North Tollway. He and his office failed to follow the county's accident reporting policy. The DA's office spent more than $11,000 in forfeiture funds which is money and assets seized from criminals to pay for more than $11,000 in vehicle repairs. County officials were not aware that the vehicle had been severely damaged.

A short time after the accident, the man Watkins hit filed a claim against Dallas County and Watkins himself. In November, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office settled the case, paying the man Watkins hit and the man's employer more than $50,000.

They used forfeiture funds -- something that experts say probably violates state law on the use of those funds.

'To go and use the forfeiture fund would probably raise a lot of questions that are real not helpful to face as a politician,' said Steve Jumes, a Fort Worth attorney who handles asset forfeiture cases.

But that's not all that wasn't routine about the settlement agreement. It has extensive language barring that the man that Watkins hit from talking to the media.

Here's what happens if he violates it: 'Breach of the nondisclosure and non-disparagement provisions shall cause Craig Watkins irreparable injury and [...] he will owe liquidated damages in the amount of $40,500 to Craig Watkins,' the settlement states.

The man's employer agreed that they would owe damages of $5,000 if they broke those provisions, according to the settlement.

'It almost sounds like they're trying to buy silence with public money,' Cantrell said. 'It certainly gives the impression that they were trying to hide or cover up something that was taking place.'

Don Tittle, a prominent Dallas attorney who has sued and won many big cases against governmental entities, called the provision 'bizarre.'

'I've never seen that,' he said.

The DA's office did not respond to a News 8 request to elaborate on the meaning of that provision.

Tittle said he has never seen a case settled without Commissioner's Court approval.

'Based on years of dealing with cities and counties, they've always got to approve the settlement,' Tittle said. 'I've been in involved in countless lawsuits, and I've never once had one where the governing body doesn't have to sign off.'

Neither Watkins nor his office responded Friday to requests for comment. They have previously said they did nothing wrong and that the law allows them to use forfeiture money in that manner.


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