REP. DUKES ASKS JUDGE TO DISMISS 4 CHARGES
Agreement to waive statute of limitations invalid, her lawyers say.
Lawyers for indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes on Wednesday asked a judge to dismiss four of the 13 felony charges against her, arguing that an agreement she signed in September to waive the statute of limitations on those four counts was invalid for technical reasons.
The felony charges of tampering with public records relate to state travel reimbursement forms in which Dukes, an Austin Democrat, submitted for days that she allegedly didn’t travel to the Capitol, as required by House rules. (Dukes isn’t requesting dismissal of two separate misdemeanor charges of abuse of official capacity.)
Travis County prosecutors in September were prepared to seek a grand jury indictment against Dukes when her attorney at the time, Michael Heiskell of Fort Worth, attempted to negotiate a deal, Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox said in court Wednesday.
Because the statute of limitations, which requires prosecutors to bring charges within three years of the alleged offenses, was about to expire on four of the alleged offenses, Cox said prosecutors in September told Dukes’ attorney they had to move forward, leading Dukes’ attorney to offer that she sign an agreement waiving the statute.
Dukes’ new attorneys, Dane Ball of Houston and Matthew Shrum of Austin, are now arguing that the agreement Dukes signed in September is invalid because it doesn’t include a date when the agreement expires, which would allow prosecutors to delay moving forward with a case indefinitely.
Travis County Assistant District
Attorney Susan Oswald, however, said it is valid, arguing that it was Dukes’ attorney’s idea and that she had already benefited from the agreement.
State District Judge Brad Urrutia didn’t rule on the motion Wednesday but expressed skepticism of the defense lawyers’ argument, saying that it would allow defendants to “thumb their nose” at prosecutors.
“Your client certainly derived a benefit, a great benefit, from signing a waiver,” Urrutia said to Ball. “You’re asking me to create new law.”
The maximum penalty for each of the felonies is two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. For the misdemeanors, it is one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
The misdemeanors concern separate allegations: that Dukes took money from her campaign account for personal use and that she gave a legislative staffer a raise to cover gas money spent while doing personal errands for Dukes.
Dukes has previously said she plans to plead not guilty on all charges.
The testimony from Cox, who until this year headed the district attorney office’s Public Integrity Unit, shed light on Dukes’ decision to resign from the Legislature, a vow that she later reneged on. Although Dukes announced in September that she was resigning due to health reasons, Cox said Wednesday that she offered to do so amid negotiations over the criminal case and asked prosecutors not to file charges until
after she left office. Additionally, Cox said that Dukes sought to delay her resignation to the beginning of 2017 to increase her pension benefits from the state.
Those negotiations took place during the tenure of former District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
After Margaret Moore succeeded Lehmberg in January, Dukes announced that she wouldn’t resign as planned and was sworn in to a 12th, two-year term representing parts of East Austin, North Austin, Manor and Pflugerville. Moore secured the grand jury indictment a week later.
On Wednesday, Moore told the American-Statesman she was
confident all of the charges will survive the attempt by to Dukes’ lawyers to have them dismissed.
“I think their motion will be denied,” said Moore. “We’re on
solid ground here.” After Wednesday’s hearing, the defense lawyers and prosecutors spoke with each other in
the emptying courtroom. “So where do you see this case going? Is this case going to go to trial?” Oswald asked.
Ball said he wasn’t ready to negotiate a resolution to the case but wanted to set up a meeting to discuss something related to that issue.
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, waves at someone as she walks with her attorneys into court on Wednesday. Dukes faces 13 felony charges.