Judge Hears Arguments on Judge in Watkins Contempt Case

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A new judge will decide the contempt charge against the Dallas County DA Craig Watkins next week.

    Three people who had lunch with a state district judge could not agree Friday on whether the judge made a disparaging remark about serving Dallas County's district attorney on a "silver platter to the FBI."

    One county employee fired from a position this week testified that Judge Lena Levario made the comment and other remarks about District Attorney Craig Watkins at the lunch two months after citing Watkins for contempt. Two others at the meal said they didn't recall anything like that being said.

    Levario's impartiality is in question as Watkins' attorneys want her removed from the contempt proceeding against him. After a day of testimony Friday, Regional Administrative Judge John Ovard delayed final arguments and a possible decision until Monday.

    Levario cited Watkins for contempt earlier this year after he refused to answer questions about his office's prosecution of an oil fortune heir. The contempt case was held up after another judge found flaws with Levario's order. Watkins' attorneys then demanded that Levario step aside from the case, which was the matter at the center of Friday's hearing.

    All three people who ate lunch with Levario at a Fort Worth Subway restaurant in May agree that the Watkins case came up. But they differed on how long it was discussed and whether Levario took any verbal shots at the district attorney.

    Jill Reese, the county employee who was fired, said Levario predicted Watkins "would see the inside of a jail cell when this was all over with" and that she planned to "knock him off his pedestal."

    Levario has signed an order granting the FBI access to files in the case. Attorneys for the oil heir, Al Hill III, have accused Watkins of pushing the prosecution as a favor to a campaign donor and friend.

    Reese also accused Levario of talking about Hill's wealth and the attorneys he had hired. According to Reese, Levario said defendants who could hire the right attorneys could "control the outcome" of a case in any courtroom, "including mine."

    Jerry Barker, a Dallas court coordinator, and Dana Nixon, a criminal district courts manager, both said they didn't hear anything like that.

    "It would have concerned me as a coordinator to hear a judge say that," Barker said. "That would have made an impact in my memory, at that point."

    Levario did not testify, as each side said it was the opposing side's responsibility to call her to the witness stand.

    Watkins did not attend the hearing.