Beleaguered state Rep. Dawnna Dukes has until the end of the day Tuesday to resign from office — and submit to a drug and alcohol assessment — as part of an offer to settle her criminal corruption case.
The offer is similar to one Dukes rejected last year before the Texas Rangers began an investigation that led to a Travis County grand jury indicting Dukes on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanors in January.
In a statement on her Facebook page Monday evening, Dukes, D-Austin, complained of “character assassination” and reacted to the implication that she has a drug or alcohol problem.
“It would be indecorous of me to respond to impertinent allegations,” she wrote, without commenting about the DA’s offer or details of her defense. “Although some would have you believe that silence is a weakness or admission of guilt, I submit to you that opinion is without merit.”
Two of her three lawyers, Houston’s Dane Ball and Shaun Clarke, want off of the case and filed a motion last week to withdraw, saying they have been unable to effectively communicate with Dukes on matters essential to her representation.
State District Judge Brad Urrutia, who gets to decide if their request is justified, has yet to rule.
If Dukes accepts the offer, it would represent a departure from the strategy she laid out after her June arraignment when she told reporters she would not take any plea deal and instead would proceed to trial Oct. 16. Dukes, who was more than two hours late for court that day, pleaded not guilty on all counts before telling the media she looked forward to presenting the true story to a jury.
The deal will expire at the close of the business day Tuesday and will not be re-offered, according to Justin Wood of the district attorney’s office. In addition to resigning, the offer calls for Dukes to:
• Submit to a drug and alcohol assessment and complete 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.
• Pay $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 did not 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.
• Pay 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.
• Waive her right to a speedy trial in any future litigation related to these matters
If Dukes accepts the offer, the DA’s office has agreed to drop the charges, but only after Dukes has complied with all conditions.
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District Attorney Margaret Moore said the offer resembles the one the 12-term Austin Democrat turned down last year. The biggest difference is the drug assessment.
“Since she has a young child, I thought it would be appropriate to ask her to comply with a treatment plan,” Moore said. “If she has a drug problem, it needs to be addressed.”
A portion of Dukes’ Facebook statement directly addressed what Moore had said earlier in the day:
“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.”
By all appearances, Dukes intends to run for re-election in 2018. In July, she surprised an Austin Community College audience by showing up for a panel discussion of District 46 candidates, as many observers figured she would dodge discussion about her criminal case and her repeated absences at the recent legislative session. She was again a no-show at the Capitol on Monday, but Rep. Sarah Davis, who was filling in for House Speaker Joe Straus, announced that Dukes was excused for “business in the district.”
At the ACC forum, Dukes raised eyebrows with a questionable claim that she co-authored the Sandra Bland Act. There is no paperwork to verify that she had anything to do with the mental health bill. However, the primary sponsor said he never turned in a sheet that would have revealed Dukes’ participation.
Earlier this summer, Austin Democrats got into a contentious debate at their monthly meeting over whether the party should push for Dukes’ resignation.
On Monday, it was the Republicans’ turn to attack her fitness for office.
“The allegations of corruption and misuse of office against Dawnna Dukes are very serious,” Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak said in a statement to the media. “Whatever the legal resolution is, it does not address her breaking her promise to the voters that she would resign if re-elected or her flagrant absences from official duty in the Capitol. Travis County residents in District 46 deserve better.”
If found guilty at trial, Dukes could face a maximum punishment of 28 years in a state jail. She also risks losing some money because of a bill Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law stating that convicted elected officials will not receive their pensions while serving their sentences.