The Dallas County district attorney on Monday won an unexpected stay of an order holding him in contempt of court, after his attorneys highlighted problems with the order.
Craig Watkins' attorneys headed off a potentially embarrassing hearing Monday about 30 minutes after it began. They argued that the judge who cited him for contempt -- for refusing to answer questions about why his office prosecuted an oil heir for mortgage fraud -- didn't list a punishment for him in the order, nor a way for him to avoid that punishment and erase the contempt.
State District Judge Bob Brotherton agreed and ended the hearing. He said Judge Lena Levario could have until 1:30 p.m. to enter a new order. But Watkins' attorneys said after court that they believe Levario should not have a second chance.
Watkins' attorneys asked Levario to recuse herself before Levario could enter the new order at a Monday afternoon hearing.
That means a third judge has to decide whether Levario will remain on the case or have it re-assigned.
Watkins could face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Watkins faces scrutiny over his office's prosecution of Al Hill III, a great-grandson of the oil titan H.L. Hunt, for mortgage fraud. Hill's attorneys accused Watkins of pushing the case forward as a favor to Lisa Blue, a prominent Dallas attorney and campaign donor.
Watkins became Dallas County's district attorney in 2007 and has won national acclaim for his office's work in freeing the wrongfully convicted, including creating the first conviction integrity unit in Texas. More than 30 inmates wrongly convicted of murders, rapes and other serious crimes have been freed in the last decade, most during Watkins' tenure.
But the contempt allegations have drawn negative publicity locally and left him facing possible jail time if convicted.
The FBI has also asked for files to the case, according to an earlier order by Levario. That raises the possibility that Watkins is facing federal scrutiny. The FBI has declined to comment.
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