Special prosecutor named in Watkins contempt case

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Associated Press

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 22 at 11:03 AM

DALLAS (AP) — A special prosecutor from North Texas will investigate whether the Dallas County district attorney committed contempt of court when he wouldn't testify to allegations that his office improperly prosecuted an oil fortune heir.

Ron Poole, a prosecutor from Cooke County near the Oklahoma border, will serve as special prosecutor in the proceedings involving Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the judge assigned to the case said in an order filed Thursday.

State District Judge Bob Brotherton of Wichita Falls did not immediately schedule a hearing date.

Watkins was held in contempt March 7 by District Judge Lena Levario of Dallas after he would not respond to allegations about why his office prosecuted oil heir Al Hill III for mortgage fraud. Attorneys for Hill accused Watkins of pursuing Hill as a favor to friend and political donor Lisa Blue, who had been mired in a fee dispute with Hill in an unrelated case.

When neither Watkins nor Blue would testify, Levario dismissed the charges against Hill. Her contempt citation against Watkins was transferred to Brotherton.

Blue asserted her right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment, citing a pending federal investigation that her attorney said involved matters in the case.

Watkins cited attorney-client privilege and a state privilege protecting certain kinds of "work product" attorneys produce in preparing a case — both of which were rejected by Levario.

Watkins' top assistant, Heath Harris, said Thursday that he's concerned that Poole works for Cooke County District Attorney Janice Warder, a former Dallas prosecutor who was found to have improperly withheld information in the trial of a 1986 murder.

A district judge found in 2008 that Warder did not give defendant Clay Chabot's attorneys information from a key witness that could have helped his case, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Chabot won a new trial, but eventually pleaded guilty to the same crime and was sentenced to time served. Warder was later elected Cooke County DA.

Harris said Watkins' attorney in the contempt proceeding would likely ask the judge about the Chabot case.

"We're not trying to say anything disparaging," Harris said. "What we're concerned about is how it looks to the general public. People have already been contacting our administration asking what's going on."

A secretary at the Cooke County district attorney's office said Warder and Poole were not available for comment Thursday.

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