Dukes lets dead­line for DA's of­fer pass

Move sig­nals law­maker’s in­ten­tion to go to trial in cor­rup­tion case.

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

Un­will­ing to quit a job she’s held for more than 20 years, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes sig­naled she will take her crim­i­nal cor­rup­tion case to trial this fall as she de­clined a take-it-or-leave-it of­fer Tues­day to step down from of­fice.

The Travis County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice had of­fered to drop all 15 charges filed against the Austin Demo­crat, most of them felonies, on the con­di­tion that she re­sign, pay $3,500 in fines and sub­mit to a drug and al­co­hol as­sess­ment.

District At­tor­ney Mar­garet Moore pulled the of­fer when she hadn’t heard from Dukes’ at­tor­neys by 5 p.m.

“The of­fer to re­solve this mat­ter has ex­pired and is no longer avail­able,” Moore said in a state­ment. “We will be ready for trial.”

Dukes de­clined to dis­cuss the mat­ter when ap­proached ear­lier in the day at the Capi­tol.

“Every­body will know when they know,” she said.

Dukes stayed true to her word from ear­lier this summer when she told re­porters that she wouldn’t ac­cept any plea deal, that she is in­no­cent and that she looks forward to pre­sent­ing her side of the story at trial on Oct. 16.

And what’s her side? “That I’m not guilty,” she said.

Dukes was given un­til the end of the work­day Tues­day to re­sign and avoid pos­si­ble jail time. She re­jected a sim­i­lar deal in Jan­uary be­fore the start of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, reneg­ing on an ear­lier prom­ise to re­sign that she had made to her con­stituents. That shift prompted the DA’s of­fice to take the case to a grand jury in Jan­uary, which re­sulted in the 15-count in­dict­ment.

There is noth­ing in the set­tle­ment of­fer that would have pre­vented Dukes, a 12-term District 46 rep­re­sen­ta­tive, from run­ning again in 2018 after stepping down. Dukes has sug­gested she in­tends to keep her seat and will op­pose Sheryl Cole, Chito Vela and oth­ers in the Demo­cratic pri­mary. Yet a felony con­vic­tion could ef­fec­tively kill her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and keep Dukes, 53, from run­ning next year. Re­gard­less, many lo­cal Democrats say they want her out, but have been met with re­sis­tance by Vin­cent Hard­ing, chair­man of the Travis County Demo­cratic Party.

The DA’s of­fice says it has pulled the set­tle­ment of­fer for good and will pre­pare to pros­e­cute Dukes on 13 felony counts and two mis­de­meanors. Com­bined, the charges could carry a max­i­mum sen­tence of 28 years in jail.

Un­der the of­fer — which the Amer­i­can-States­man re­ported first on Mon­day — Moore agreed to drops all charges if Dukes had: Re­signed im­me­di­ately. Sub­mit­ted to a drug and al­co­hol as­sess­ment and com­pleted 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.

Paid $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 didn’t 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.

Paid 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.

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

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

The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the new deal and the one Dukes turned down in Jan­uary is the drug as­sess­ment. Moore told the States­man on Mon­day she had Dukes’ young daugh­ter in mind when she added the con­di­tion to the of­fer, adding, “If she has a drug problem, it needs to be ad­dressed.”

A por­tion of a state­ment Dukes posted to Face­book di­rectly ad­dressed what Moore said. “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.”

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes leaves the House cham­ber after ad­journ­ment at the Capi­tol on Tues­day. Dukes is likely to go to trial in the fall on cor­rup­tion charges.

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Rep. Dawnna Dukes takes her seat after ar­riv­ing dur­ing the spe­cial ses­sion in the House cham­bers at the Capi­tol on Tues­day. Two of Duke’s three lawyers have filed a mo­tion to with­draw from her case.

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