Dallas Morning News sues DA Craig Watkins over release of documents

By Sarah Mervosh
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published Oct. 23, 2014

The Dallas Morning News sued Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins on Thursday in an attempt to obtain documents about how Watkins has spent public money.

The newspaper asked a state district judge to order Watkins to turn over public documents after the district attorney refused to release them in the time frame outlined by state law, according to the lawsuit.

Watkins’ spokeswoman, Debbie Denmon, said the district attorney’s office has received an “unusually high number” of public information requests recently and is bound by its limited resources.

She said she was disappointed to learn the paper had filed suit, but said, “We are comfortable with the court addressing this issue.”

The suit centers on Watkins’ use of the forfeiture fund, a pool of money seized in crime busts that Watkins can use for law enforcement purposes. The News sought documents about the fund after Watkins came under fire for how he was using it.

Watkins faced criticism for using the money to settle a claim from a car crash he got in while driving a county-owned vehicle.

He also used the money to pay a security company to sweep his office for bugs shortly before a visit from the FBI, records show.

In September, the newspaper asked for documents such as copies of receipts, checks and emails.

But the lawsuit says Watkins has failed to release them.

His office hasn’t requested an attorney general’s opinion, which the law allows if an agency doesn’t believe the documents should be released. And it hasn’t provided a written response to the newspaper, as required by law, according to the suit.

The News asked a judge to order Watkins to release the documents and pay for the paper’s attorney fees. A hearing is set for Monday.