The Lone Star State has produced its share of outstanding lawyers, including Thomas C. Clark, who served as U.S. Attorney General from 1945 to 1949, and then 18 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. Clark first made his mark as the civil district attorney for Dallas County, Texas. Unfortunately one of his successors, incumbent Dallas County D.A. Craig Watkins, has strayed from the standards of public service Clark laid down.
Public controversy over campaign funds has dogged Watkins for at least two years, but it is a legal matter in which he currently is embroiled that casts serious doubt on his commitment to serve his constituents and his profession fairly and impartially.
The case that has created a cloud over Watkins’ six-year tenure as the top prosecutor for Dallas is quintessential Texas – big money, big egos and big names. It began as a dispute between descendants of the fabled Texas oil tycoon, H. L. Hunt, arguing over proceeds from multi-billion dollar trusts bequeathed to his heirs.
H. L.’s grandson, Albert Hill, Jr., and his estranged son Albert Hill III, had been engaged in a running legal battle over the family’s efforts to sell the multi-billion dollar Hunt Petroleum, owned by two of the trusts established in the 1930s and as to which both Hill, Jr. and his son were beneficiaries. Eventually, as a direct results of this dispute, the father moved to disinherit the son, who then filed a civil RICO action against his father in 2007.
One of the lawyers representing Hill III from late 2009 to mid-2010 was Lisa Blue Baron, widow of Fred Baron, the late colleague and political confidant of former vice-presidential nominee and presidential wannabe, John Edwards. From there, the matter became truly complicated.
Following a settlement in May 2010 between the two Hill antagonists, Blue and two other Dallas attorneys working with her demanded a contingency fee from Hill III that exceeded $50 million. Blue’s client refused to pay the Texas-sized fee, which in turn led to another federal-court dispute. In the midst of these intra-family and attorney-client legal battles, entered Watkins, a major recipient of Blue’s many political contributions.
The relationship between Blue and Watkins appears to be multi-faceted; with legal as well as political overtones. Blue created a $100,000 scholarship in Watkins’ name at Southern Methodist University’s law school. She represented Watkins at no fee in a lawsuit he brought against a former FBI agent who had investigated charges of corruption in Dallas County.