DALLAS — The Dallas County district attorney resigned her position as the top prosecutor in the nation’s ninth most populous county Tuesday just a month after returning to work following her third inpatient treatment for mental illness.
Since taking office in January 2015, Susan Hawk’s tenure has been marked by long absences as she sought treatment. The Republican recently returned to work after spending nearly two months at an Arizona clinic.
“I believe our office is making a difference and I want to continue that good work,” Hawk said in her resignation letter dated Tuesday to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “I made a commitment to step away from the office if I felt I could no longer do my job, and unfortunately I’ve reached that point as my health needs my full attention in the coming months.”
Her resignation is effective immediately.
The start of Hawk’s term was tumultuous, with allegations of paranoid behavior and the dismissal of top staffers. Some complained that Hawk had created a toxic atmosphere of suspicion in the district attorney’s office.
Last year, she had not been seen for weeks at the Dallas courthouse before her office revealed she was seeking mental health treatment. Hawk’s absences had generated numerous questions about the management of her office and her ability to perform her duties.
Hawk later checked into a Houston clinic for treatment of depression in the summer of 2015. She checked into the same clinic earlier this year for several weeks before heading to the Arizona facility that specializes in mental health treatment around mid-June.
Dallas County Democrats last year moved beyond nuanced calls for her resignation and explicitly pushed for her ouster from a position that pays about $210,000.
Heath Harris, the first assistant district attorney under former Democratic District Attorney Craig Watkins, said the legal community, as colleagues, wanted Hawk to “do what she needed to do to take care of her health.” He said her absence was likely difficult for the staff overall.
“The district attorney is the captain of the ship. When that captain is not present it affects everything,” Harris said. “It affects morale, how people interact with each other. The office doesn’t run as effectively or efficiently as it should.”
Toby Shook, a former prosecutor and Republican who ran against Watkins in 2006, agreed that the office can suffer without a top leader.
“You can keep the day to day operations going, but you do need an elected DA to lead an office, someone to set policy and someone to set those ultimate decisions. Otherwise the place is in limbo,” he said.
Before her most recent stint in a treatment facility, Hawk said in a statement, “Mental illness is a fluid and dynamic disease that calls for unexpected and prolonged treatment. I did not choose this disease, but I am choosing to treat it aggressively and openly.”
In an interview with D Magazine for a story published last October, Hawk said there was a time she wanted to resign because she was having suicidal thoughts.
Hawk is a former district court judge who surprised some when in November 2014 she defeated Watkins, the Democratic incumbent. It was later revealed she had also spent time in rehab for a prescription drug addiction in 2013 during her campaign for office.
Watkins won national acclaim during his eight years as Dallas County DA for creating a Conviction Integrity Unit that freed more than 30 men wrongfully convicted of crimes.
But the FBI investigated how he handled a mortgage-fraud case involving an oil heir, and opponents accused Watkins of bullying opponents and using county funds to cover up a car accident in which he acknowledged using his cellphone while driving.
If Hawk had resigned on or before Aug. 26, voters would have chosen her successor in November, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office. But since she resigned after that, Gov. Abbott will appoint a successor to serve the remaining two years of Hawk’s term.
John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott, said the Governor’s Appointments Office will begin accepting applications and “will take the appropriate time” choosing a replacement.
County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county’s top administrator and a Democrat, expressed his best wishes for Hawk’s health battles. However, he regretted Hawk’s timing.
“The timing of the resignation is very unfortunate for Dallas County voters because it is coming just days after the ballot submission deadline. Whenever possible, the voters — not the politicians — should decide who represents them in elected office,” he said in a statement.
Said Harris, who served under a Democrat, the timing of Hawk’s resignation was “disingenuous and a disservice to the people of Dallas County.”
Associated Press writers Claudia Lauer and Terry Wallace contributed to this report.