DALLAS (AP) — A judge who declared the Dallas County district attorney in contempt of court for not testifying during a hearing agreed on Friday to let another judge decide how to handle that citation.
State District Judge Lena Levario's order refers contempt proceedings against District Attorney Craig Watkins to Judge John Ovard, the presiding judge for the state administrative region that includes Dallas. Ovard said Friday he would likely assign another district judge next week to examine the issue and decide on any possible punishment for Watkins.
Levario held Watkins in contempt Thursday for not answering questions in court about whether his office improperly prosecuted oil heir Al Hill III for mortgage fraud. Levario dismissed the charges against Hill, blaming Watkins' lack of testimony.
Hill's attorneys allege Watkins pushed forward the prosecution of Hill as a favor to a friend and campaign donor, attorney Lisa Blue, who was embroiled in a dispute with Hill over legal fees. They presented records of phone calls between Watkins and Blue, as well as campaign donations he received around the time the case was being considered.
Prosecutors speaking on Watkins' behalf rejected any suggestion that the case was handled improperly. They said Watkins never mentioned Blue or interfered with the case in any way.
Levario said it was clear to her that Watkins was "calling the shots," and without testimony from him or Blue, she had to dismiss the cases.
Watkins had filed motions Friday asking Levario to refer the case to another judge.
His spokeswoman, Debbie Denmon, said prosecutors were still deciding whether to appeal Levario's dismissal of charges against Hill.
Levario said in her Friday order that she found Watkins in contempt because he was in "direct and willful defiance of the court."
Watkins had said he would not answer questions about the case due to attorney-client privilege and a state privilege that allows prosecutors to withhold some notes and other materials as they develop a case. Levario rejected those arguments and directed him to take the stand.
Blue invoked her right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment.