DA to Dukes: No charges if you re­sign

Law­maker must leave by end of day Tues­day, meet other con­di­tions.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Au­tullo rautullo@states­man.com

Be­lea­guered state Rep. Dawnna Dukes has un­til the end of the day Tues­day to re­sign from of­fice — and sub­mit to a drug and al­co­hol as­sess­ment — as part of an of­fer to set­tle her crim­i­nal cor­rup­tion case.

The of­fer is sim­i­lar to one Dukes re­jected last year be­fore the Texas Rangers be­gan an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to a Travis County grand jury in­dict­ing Dukes on 13 felony charges and two mis­de­meanors in Jan­uary.

In a state­ment on her Face­book page Mon­day evening, Dukes com­plained of “char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion” and re­acted to the im­pli­ca­tion that she has a drug or al­co­hol prob­lem.

“It would be in­deco­rous of me to re­spond to im­per­ti­nent al­le­ga­tions,” she wrote, with­out com­ment­ing about the DA’s of­fer or de­tails of her defense. “Al­though some would have you be­lieve that si­lence is a weak­ness or ad­mis­sion of guilt, I sub­mit to you that opin­ion is with­out merit.”

Two of her three lawyers, Hous­ton’s Dane Ball and Shaun Clarke, want off of the case and filed a mo­tion last week to with­draw, say­ing they have been un­able to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate with Dukes on mat­ters es­sen­tial to her rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Travis County Judge Brad Ur­ru­tia, who gets to de­cide if their re­quest is jus­ti­fied, has yet to rule.

If Dukes ac­cepts the of­fer, it would rep­re­sent a de­par­ture from the strat­egy she laid out af­ter her June ar­raign­ment when she told re­porters she would not take any plea deal and in­stead

would pro­ceed to trial Oct. 16. Dukes, who was more than two hours late for court that day, pleaded not guilty on all counts be­fore telling the me­dia she looked for­ward to pre­sent­ing the true story to a jury.

The deal will ex­pire at the close of the busi­ness day Tues­day and will not be re-of­fered, ac­cord­ing to Justin Wood of the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice. In ad­di­tion to re­sign­ing, the of­fer calls for Dukes to:

Sub­mit to a drug and al­co­hol as­sess­ment and com­plete any treat­ment and coun­sel­ing rec­om­mended as a re­sult of the as­sess­ment. In a March 29 meet­ing of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, Dukes showed up late and, af­ter pos­ing a ram­bling ques­tion, re­ferred to med­i­ca­tion she was on — “I know I’m talk­ing a lot. I’m full of mor­phine and will be headed out of here soon,” she said.

Pay $3,000 in resti­tu­tion re­lated to charges of tam­per­ing with gov­ern­men­tal records and abuse of of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity. Dukes is al­leged to have col­lected pay for days she claimed to have worked but did not travel to the Capi­tol in 2014, dur­ing a break be­tween leg­isla­tive ses­sions. She’s also charged with giv­ing a staffer a pay raise to cover gas money for driv­ing Dukes’ daugh­ter to school.

Pay a $500 fine to re­solve a law­suit with the Texas Ethics Com­mis­sion. Dukes was sued by the com­mis­sion in July for miss­ing a dead­line for a cam­paign fi­nance re­port and then not pay­ing the fine.

Waive her right to a speedy trial in any fu­ture lit­i­ga­tion re­lated to these mat­ters

If Dukes ac­cepts the of­fer, the DA’s of­fice has agreed to drop the charges, but only af­ter Dukes has com­plied with all con­di­tions.

District At­tor­ney Mar­garet Moore said the of­fer re­sem­bles the one the 12-term Austin Demo­crat turned down last year.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence is the drug as­sess­ment.

“Since she has a young child, I thought it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to ask her to com­ply with a treat­ment plan,” Moore said. “If she has a drug prob­lem, it needs to be ad­dressed.”

A por­tion of Dukes’ Face­book state­ment di­rectly ad­dressed what Moore had said ear­lier in the day:

“While I ap­pre­ci­ate any benev­o­lent con­cern about my health, there is lit­tle need to spec­u­late,” Dukes said. “My daugh­ter, Leila is my heart, to­tal and com­plete pri­or­ity and gives me un­con­di­tional love, kisses and strength to fight ev­ery bul­lied bat­tle.”

By all ap­pear­ances, Dukes in­tends to run for re-elec­tion in 2018. In July, she sur­prised an Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege au­di­ence by show­ing up for a panel dis­cus­sion of District 46 can­di­dates, as many ob­servers fig­ured she would dodge dis­cus­sion about her crim­i­nal case and her re­peated ab­sences at the re­cent leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

She was again a no-show at the Capi­tol on Mon­day, but Rep. Sarah Davis, who was fill­ing in for House Speaker Joe Straus, an­nounced that Dukes was ex­cused for “busi­ness in the district.”

At the ACC fo­rum, Dukes raised eye­brows with a ques­tion­able claim that she co-au­thored the San­dra Bland Act. There is no pa­per­work to ver­ify that she had any­thing to do with the men­tal health bill.

How­ever, the pri­mary spon­sor said he never turned in a sheet that would have re­vealed Dukes’ par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Ear­lier this sum­mer, Austin Democrats got into a con­tentious de­bate at their monthly meet­ing over whether the party should push for Dukes’ res­ig­na­tion.

On Mon­day, it was the Repub­li­cans’ turn to at­tack her fit­ness for of­fice.

“The al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and mis­use of of­fice against Dawnna Dukes are very se­ri­ous,” Travis County GOP Chair­man Matt Mack­owiak said in a state­ment to the me­dia. “What­ever the le­gal res­o­lu­tion is, it does not ad­dress her break­ing her prom­ise to the vot­ers that she would re­sign if re-elected or her fla­grant ab­sences from of­fi­cial duty in the Capi­tol. Travis County res­i­dents in District 46 de­serve bet­ter.”

If found guilty at trial, Dukes could face a max­i­mum pun­ish­ment of 28 years in a state jail. She also risks los­ing some money be­cause of a bill Gov. Greg Ab­bott signed into law stat­ing that con­victed elected of­fi­cials will not re­ceive their pen­sions while serv­ing their sen­tences.

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes and her at­tor­ney Matthew Shrum wait for an el­e­va­tor af­ter court June 30. Dukes cited “char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion” in a Face­book post Mon­day night.

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