DALLAS (CN) - Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk made her first public appearance Monday night since taking leave for depression, defending her performance as she faces a lawsuit seeking her removal from office.
Speaking at a town hall meeting at St. Paul United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas, Hark urged citizens not to focus on hearsay. She said she "loves" her job and loves serving Dallas County.
"There's been some speculation and media attention regarding our office and how it has been run the past 10 months," she said. "So I would like to put that speculation to rest tonight by giving you the facts about the great progress of our office."
Hawk, who assumed the elective office in January, paused when referring to her mental health struggles. She announced the formation of a unit in her office to divert mentally ill defendants away from prison toward medical care and to divert younger defendants.
""The mental health track of this program is important to me personally ... because I know firsthand how an untreated illness can negatively impact your life," she said. "I was blessed with the opportunity to treat my illness, but I believe that getting well is an opportunity everyone should have."
Hawk said jury trials tried by her prosecutors are up 14 percent this year, in an effort to "seek justice" instead of "taking the easy road."
She said her office has reduced costs by more than $880,000 in the first nine months of the year - an average of $50 in savings per case.
Responding to questions about prosecution of drug offenses, Hawk indicated a willingness to consider alternatives to arrest for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
"There are some things we need to work out for that," Hawk said. "We are speaking with law enforcement."
Hawk returned to work on Oct. 1 after disappearing for more than two months. She disclosed in August that she was dealing with a "serious episode of depression" and would seek professional help, after her staff endured weeks of questions about her whereabouts. Hawk's office originally said she was on a "summer break."
Two weeks after she returned, she was sued by fired prosecutor and administrative chief Cindy Stormer. Stormer, seeking Hawk's removal from office , claims Hawk had repeatedly asked her to use public funds improperly. She said Hawk held a $22,500 check of public money for two months, and "claimed that she thought it was her pay stub;" that Hawk asked to use public money to pay attorney association and Rotary dues, and asked for a credit card in her name, in violation of county policy.
Accusing Hawk of "escalating mental illness and incompetence," Stormer claimed that Hawk admitted during her 2013 campaign that she had been treated for addiction to a prescription drug "similar to Adderall," and that "(t)hose close to DA Hawk have publicly acknowledged that she is also addicted to OxyContin and Hydrocodone."
Stormer claims Hawk suffered "a complete break with reality" after she was elected last year, and that others have noticed her "bouts of paranoia and mistrust" and questionable firings of employees.
She claims Hawk accused her former first assistant Bill Wirskye of breaking into her house, "attempting to expose a compromising 'blow job shot' photograph of her," and of using a state forfeiture fund to have a key to Hawk's house made. Hawk later fired Wirskye.