By Patty Montagno
The punishment will fit the crime. That statement is from newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk. As the featured speaker at the Sachse Chamber of Commerce May networking luncheon, her presentation focused several areas that the district attorney’s office can partner with local schools and the community.
Starting off her presentation with some biographical information, Hawk said, “I have lived in Dallas County for 22 years,” she said. “This is my home.”
She is a retired Criminal District Judge/Attorney. Her education includes a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English from Texas Tech University and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence form Texas Wesleyan University.
“I worked as a prosecutor in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office and served for a decade as a state district judge before running for district attorney.
She also spoke about the ATLAS program she created while on the bench to address mental health issues among defendants. She said the “one-stop shop” provided probationers medicine and held them accountable. She said she was so familiar with the probationers that she knew their dogs’ names.”
She was elected three times as presiding judge of the 291st Judicial District Court and she was a child abuse prosecutor.
Among her most memorable cases was one in which a girl was kept locked in a closet for several years.
“I’ve seen the worst of the worst,” she said. “At one point I would not let a child under 12 years of age as a courtroom spectator.”
Hawk said she led a team including mental health professionals, probation officers, public defenders and mental health advocates, to create the first diversion-type felony mental health court for mentally ill offenders, which now serves as a model for specialty courts.
“Our project was successful in reducing the rate of recidivism for mentally ill offenders by 70 percent and getting them the special care they need,” she said. “In the process, we saved Texas taxpayers millions of dollars in incarcerations expenses.”
“I am still seeking ways to expand the existing diversion programs and create new programs where there is a need,” she said. “I will publicize and educate all about the availability of such programs.”
Hawk said she has two decades of experience in the courtroom.
“I’ve personally tried more than 150 felony jury trials, and presided over more than 33,000 cases as a judge,” she said. “I am proud to say that I was recognized as Prosecutor of the Year for successfully prosecuting the worst child sexual offenders, and as a trial judge I sentenced violent and habitual offenders to lengthy prison sentences while developing an innovative program to keep mentally ill defendants from re-offending.”
The DA’s office will also be starting an adopt-a-school program in the coming weeks. She said the office will be adopting an elementary, middle, and high school each quarter.
“I think we’ll have a lot of takers,” she said. “There’s no place that you can make a bigger mark.”
Garland Independent School District Trustee Linda Griffin said she welcomes any program that will allow officials to engage the students and create more safety programs.
“This program will help show our children the criminal justice system,” she said. “They will be able to understand the system. I look forward to learning more.”
Hawk ended her presentation by stating that she will focus on clearly defining the essential or core mission of the District Attorney office by prioritizing the prosecuting violent and habitual offenders.
“I will work tirelessly to secure grant money from non-profits, state and federal agencies that will allow the DA’s office to provide additional services for victims and witness and supplement investigations and prosecutions,” she said. “I also believe that through more thorough training of young prosecutors, we can get better value and results from the existing prosecutorial budget, and I will make training and mentoring young prosecutors a top priority. This type of accessibility and transparency is the only way to repair the strained relationships with local law enforcement.”