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Dallas DA’s Fight to Keep Office Highlights Mental Health & Privacy

DALLAS (CN) - Embattled Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk faced new allegations of illegal drug use Monday as she asked a judge to toss a lawsuit seeking her removal from office, in a case that raises questions about medical privacy for a public official.

Former prosecutor and administrative chief Cindy Stormer sued Hawk in Dallas County District Court on Oct. 13, accusing her former boss of "escalating mental illness and incompetence."

After taking office this year, Hawk disappeared for two months, and sought treatment for depression.

Stormer cited several controversial staff firings since Hawk was sworn into office in January and claims Hawk showed erratic and paranoid behavior, indicating "a complete break with reality ."

In her lawsuit, Stormer said Hawk admitted during her 2013 campaign that she had been treated for addiction to a prescription drug "similar to Adderall." She added that "(t)hose close to DA Hawk have publicly acknowledged that she is also addicted to OxyContin and Hydrocodone."

Stormer also claimed Hawk had asked her to use public funds improperly. In one case, she said, Hawk held onto a $22,500 check of public money for two months and "claimed that she thought it was her pay stub."

Stormer filed an amended complaint on Monday, adding an allegation that Hawk uses "illegal drugs for recreational purposes." She claims Hawk should be removed from office "in the public interest."

She also wants Hawk to admit or deny whether she has ever used illegal drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, information about her divorces, her doctors and counselors, her medical treatments, and who made the diagnoses and provided the treatments.

She wants Hawk to admit or deny whether she is still receiving care for mental illness, and whether she ever has been "accused of stealing a prescription pad for purposes of writing false prescriptions" for herself.

Mental health groups came to Hawk's defense last week, asking Stormer to drop her lawsuit, saying it stigmatizes mental health issues, discourages others from seeking help and attacks medical privacy.

"Your lawsuit furthers the stigma, discourages others from seeking help and works directly against the progress we need on the issue of mental health," the Oct. 15 letter states. "Your lawsuit purposefully works against HIPAA laws that protect the private medical records of Americans, and could set a precedent that strips this privacy and promotes discrimination based on medical history," the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Texas chapter, and others wrote in their letter to Stormer.

On Monday, Hawk filed several motions seeking to end the lawsuit. She asked the court to quash the citation issued by the district clerk because Stormer "has no capacity" to sue individually on behalf of the state, that only "a proper state official" can do so in an ouster lawsuit.

Hawk cites a 1955 Texas Supreme Court decision that found that ouster lawsuits "belong to the public and cannot be maintained by individuals without joinder by a proper state official."

Hawk also attacked Stormer's claims, arguing they "cannot be the basis" for ouster.

"Application of the ouster statute to remove someone because of a federally protected medical condition is preempted by federal law," the 21-page filing states.

Stormer's attorney, W. Kelly Puls with Puls Haney in Fort Worth, told The Dallas Morning News on Monday that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to this case because people who function well with therapy and drugs do not meet the standard for a disability.

"If Ms. Hawk is claiming that the ADA applies, it is an admission that her current mental illness cannot be stabilized through medications and therapy," Puls said in a statement.

Also Monday, the judge in the case and an administrative judge who was to be appointed her replacement both recused themselves.

State District Judge Staci Williams and First Administrative Judicial Region Judge Mary Murphy signed orders of recusal and asked Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht to appoint a replacement.

Such recusals are not unusual, as there could be a conflict of interest in overseeing a case involving an elected official from the same county.

Follow @davejourno
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