Author Archives: Edgar Walters

Free of criminal charges, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes says she was victimized

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, says she's healthy enough to serve another term in the Texas House during a conversation on Nov. 7, 2017 at the Austin Club.  

In her first public appearance since being cleared of criminal charges, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said Tuesday she had been maligned by the Travis County district attorney, other Austin-area Democratic lawmakers and the news media.

Dukes, speaking at a Texas Tribune event in Austin, said she was motivated to give extensive public comments, for the first time since her criminal charges were dropped, “because it’s an opportunity to tell the real story.”

Last year, amid a criminal inquiry into whether Dukes had misused her public office, she announced she would resign, citing health reasons. On Tuesday, Dukes shed new light on her health issues. At the time, she said, according to a doctor’s diagnosis, “the outcome of my life looked very dim.”

Dukes later chose not to resign. She now faces a slew of Democratic primary challengers who announced they would run when it appeared Dukes would not return to the Legislature.

Dukes said Tuesday she had suffered simultaneously from “MS and MG,” an apparent reference to multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis. And she explained that, after a car accident left her seriously injured, she then suffered an additional injury to her neck — which was “severed, having already been weak,” she said — after some horseplay at the Capitol involving a purse strung around her neck.

Still, Dukes said she had recovered sufficiently to serve her district. “I’m healthy enough to serve another term,” she said. “I have fought back. I have on my high heels.”

The representative has come under fire by political opponents for missing votes at the Capitol. She downplayed those concerns, calling them inaccurate. She said Austin-area lawmakers had plotted against her. State Rep. “Donna Howard was the ringleader, and [Rep.] Celia Israel followed up,” Dukes said.

“There was a concerted effort by my delegation to make me appear more absent than everyone else,” she said.

Dukes arrived 40 minutes late to the Tribune event, citing a medical emergency.

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Rep. Dawnna Dukes cleared of criminal charges, attorneys say

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, has a laugh with state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, during an afternoon budget debate on April 6, 2017.  

Attorneys for state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said Monday all criminal charges against her had been dropped.

“Representative Dukes was innocent from day one,” said Dane Ball, an attorney for Dukes, in a statement. “We’re glad Representative Dukes can get back to serving her constituents without the distraction of these baseless charges.”

The announcement ends a months-long legal saga in which Dukes was accused of abusing public office. A grand jury indicted Dukes on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges earlier this year. But over the past month, prosecutors have been forced to admit that their case against the Austin Democrat was based on flawed evidence.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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Prosecutors drop 1 of 13 felony charges against Rep. Dawwna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, has a laugh with State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, during afternoon debate on the budget  April 6, 2017.  

Prosecutors dropped one of their felony charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes on Wednesday, acknowledging that their case against the Austin Democrat has weakened since a grand jury indicted her on that and 12 other felony counts earlier this year.

The Travis County district attorney’s office wrote Wednesday that evidence they had used — gathered from Dukes’ cell phone — was incorrect. Originally, prosecutors claimed Dukes’ cell phone data showed she was out of Austin on a day when she received payment for working at the Capitol. But, according to Wednesday’s filing, a crime analyst from the Department of Public Safety, in at least one instance, mixed up the data she extracted from Dukes’ phone, using information from the wrong calendar date.

That means prosecutors will abandon one felony charge alleging Dukes had falsified travel information to collect a state official’s daily pay on a day when she did not work at the Capitol. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has until Oct. 30 to say whether it will continue to pursue the other 12 felony charges.

“When analyzing the correct data … [the Department of Public Safety] stated Ms. Dukes’ cell phone indicated activity near downtown Austin, Texas, which puts her within range of the Capitol building,” prosecutors wrote.

A lawyer for Dukes praised the decision.

“The prosecution made the right decision by dropping this charge,” Shaun Clarke, the attorney, said in an email. “Now they need to drop the twelve remaining charges.”

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Report: Indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes spent $51k on online psychic

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, on the House floor Aug. 2, 2017.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, the Austin Democrat facing corruption charges, failed to turn over a cell phone to investigators and spent more than $51,000 on an online psychic, according to a legal filing reported by the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday.

The document obtained by the Statesman reveals that Travis County prosecutors intend to present the information as evidence in Dukes’ misdemeanor trial next month, part of 19 “extraneous acts” chronicled by prosecutors. Dukes is accused of using her legislative to staff run personal errands and being compensated for days she did not work at the Texas Capitol.

In addition to the large psychic bill and Dukes’ giving investigators a phone whose identification number did not match the one they had requested, other “extraneous acts” include Dukes’ being recorded absent for more than half of roll calls taken during the 2017 legislative session, the Statesman reported.

A Travis County grand jury in January indicted Dukes on two charges of abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Those charges allege that Dukes used her legislative staff to work on the African-American Community Heritage Festival and be a live-in nanny for her daughter.

At the same time, Dukes was charged with 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. These charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to. But Travis County prosecutors put their felony case on hold earlier this month after a key witness’s story changed about the official paperwork that Dukes was accused of having falsified.

In June, the 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty to tampering with a governmental record and abuse of official capacity by a public servant. Judge Brad Urrutia set a trial date of Oct. 16.

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Harvey brings catastrophic flooding to Houston; 5 reported dead

A lone pickup sits in a parking lot as rains from Harvey fall on southeast Houston on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.

Houston and other parts of southeast Texas are experiencing “catastrophic, life-threatening flooding,” federal officials said Sunday, as Harvey, now a slow-moving tropical storm, hovers over the region, dumping rainfall.

At least five people in the Houston area are dead, the Houston Chronicle reported. Across the region, rising waters stranded people in their homes and on rooftops, and entire stretches of freeway were submerged. Officials believed the first fatality to be a woman who was found dead near her car, in which she had likely been trapped during a flood, according to the Washington Post.

“We’re urging people to stay off the streets,” Gary Norman, a spokesman for Houston’s emergency management system, told the Post. “We’re still very much in rescue mode.”

Between Saturday and Sunday morning, Houston and Galveston received about two feet of measured rainfall, the National Weather Service said. The region is expected to receive up to two more feet of rainfall over the coming days.

“I know for a fact this is the worst flood Houston has ever experienced,” Patrick Blood, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Chronicle.

“Worse than Allison,” the 2001 tropical storm that sat over Houston, causing nearly two dozen deaths and extreme flooding, Blood said. “It’s so widespread.”

Harvey made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane that left one person dead in Rockport and wreaked havoc on buildings along the Texas coast. Over time, as the storm crept inland, its wind speeds diminished and meteorologists downgraded it to a tropical storm. Once inland, the storm slowed to a crawl and dropped hours of torrential rain across southeast Texas, which caused officials to warn of catastrophic flooding for days to come.

On Friday, a White House spokeswoman said the president would soon travel to Texas. But by Sunday morning, the president appeared to be delaying the trip, citing a need to stay out of the way as rescue efforts continue.

“I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning.

Additional reporting by Abby Livingston.

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Texas governor signs $217 billion budget, vetoes $120 million

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s two-year budget Monday, giving his approval to the $217 billion document crafted by the Legislature.

But the governor did cut about $120 million from various programs through a mechanism known as a line-item veto — including measures meant to improve the region’s air quality and assist the colonias, impoverished areas on the Texas-Mexico border.

The budget, the product of a compromise agreed to by state lawmakers last month, “addresses the most pressing challenges faced by our state,” Abbott said in a prepared statement.

“This budget funds a life-saving overhaul of Child Protection Services, continues to fund the state’s role in securing our border, and ensures that the workforce of today and tomorrow have the resources they need to keep Texas’ economy growing and thriving,” Abbott said.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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