While my friends Mark Bennett, Michael, Grits, and the entire staff of the Houston Chronicle have been whole-heartedly heralding Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins as the second-coming when it comes to prosecutors, one my readers, Qeenie pointed out this story from Wednesday's edition of the Dallas Morning News. Not surprisingly (as Qeenie pointed out), the Chronicle has yet to pick up this story. Go figure.
During the love-affair that the media and others have had with Mr. Watkins, there has been quite a bit of coverage on him. From his discovery of the safe with Jack Ruby memorabilia to his strong support of a Conviction Integrity Unit to his suggestion of felony charges against prosecutors who withhold Brady material, Watkins has certainly become a Media Darling in a world where people typically don't like prosecutors.
So why does everybody love Craig Watkins so much, even though he's a prosecutor?
Well, uh, it could be argued that it doesn't seem like he's showing much interest in prosecuting -- at least not much interest in prosecuting anybody other than other prosecutors.
My big concern about Watkins has always been that, at some point, he needs to go back to prosecuting people. Although the community of victims of crimes (either violent or non-violent) may be much smaller than the media pundits who are loudly singing his praises on 60 Minutes, I've yet to see Watkins taking a strong-stance on crime. True, a heart-felt "thanks" for your strong victim's advocacy probably won't land you on national TV, but that's the job that prosecutors sign on to do.
In other words, being a Media Darling is all fine and good, but there's a hell of a lot more to the job of District Attorney than just having good PR skills. Although the District Attorney should be trusted, that doesn't necessarily mean that he has to be loved. Bad news, Mr. Watkins, but you're going to be ticking some people off during your tenure. You might as well get used to it.
This incident with accepting and (even worse) soliciting gifts from corporate sponsors and the members of the Defense Bar for gifts (and I mean nice gifts) to be handed out to the prosecutors breaks the law, and Watkins should have known that. Public servants can't accept gifts over $50 in value from anyone that they aren't personal friends with.
There has been several occasions during my career where victims of crime have given me a card with a gift certificate at the close of trial. I always keep the card and then return the gift certificate. That's just the way the law works. And really, that's the way the law should work.
In my opinion, Watkins just needs to get back to the job of being a prosecutor and stop trying so hard to be universally loved.