Travis County prosecutors have dropped their criminal charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, saying Monday that a felony case against the state lawmaker should never have been brought.
The announcement ends a months-long legal saga in which Dukes was accused of abusing public office, after a grand jury indicted her on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges earlier this year. But prosecutors have, over recent weeks, been forced to admit that their case against the Austin Democrat was based on flawed evidence.
“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 felony case against Dukes claimed she had unlawfully tampered with a government record by falsifying entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to. But Travis County prosecutors were forced to put their felony case on hold last month after claiming a key witness in the case — who managed the official paperwork for the Texas House of Representatives — had changed his story.
Then, earlier this month, prosecutors were forced to drop one of the felony charges after acknowledging they had misread a date on Dukes’ cellphone, which formed a key piece of evidence they had gathered against her.
Dukes also faced two misdemeanor charges of abuse of official capacity by a public servant. Those charges alleged that Dukes had used her legislative staff to work on the African American Community Heritage Festival and be a live-in nanny for her daughter.
Margaret Moore, the Travis County district attorney, said Monday she agreed to drop the misdemeanor charges on the condition that Dukes would repay the state $1,340 in order to reimburse the legislative staffer who’d taken care of Dukes’ daughter. Dukes also agreed to pay $500 for an outstanding fine owed to the Texas Ethics Commission and return $5,230 to her campaign account, which prosecutors said had been used for personal expenses.
In a statement, Moore said she would not have filed charges against Dukes had the statements from Texas House officials about travel reimbursement policy been clearer from the start.
“After a thorough examination of the evidence available to us, we have determined that we cannot continue the lawsuit,” Moore said.
Moore said her decision to drop the misdemeanor charges was in part an acknowledgment that prosecutors had bungled the case.
“In deciding how to resolve the two misdemeanors, I have taken into account the fact that the felony charges should not have been pursued,” she said. “Dismissing the misdemeanors for restitution, restoration of the campaign funds, and the paying of a fine to the Ethics Commission is a just result, given the amount of money involved and the nature of the offenses.”
In June, the 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty after declining an offer from prosecutors to drop the charges against her if she agreed to resign.