An ever-evolving push for higher standards of ethics

Dawnna Dukes faces serious felony criminal charges. If convicted, she could serve to 28 years in jail.

If her name seems familiar, Dukes also happens to be a Texas Democratic state representative. On January 19, a grand jury indicted her on 13 felony counts of tampering with a government record and two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity.

A System Of Accountability Put To The Test

The high profile case’s significance goes beyond a public official facing possible convictions for felony crimes. It also represents one of the first tests of a system established by the Texas legislature to keep their state elected officials honest.

The public integrity unit was tasked to handle statewide corruption cases. However, controversy arose over allegations by state lawmakers of political bias. Lawmakers grew concerned that an ‘independent office” was housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, a traditional Democratic stronghold in the Lone Star State.

In an effort to de-politicize the unit, representatives decided to hand over investigative authority to the Texas Rangers and allow district attorneys in each elected official’s home county to pursue prosecution.

Currently, Representative Dukes’ plans to plead not guilty to the specific accusations of misspending campaign funds, doctoring records, and directing her legislative staff to work on non-official business. She claims that the allegations come from disgruntled former employees.

The state legislator initially announced plans to resign over what she cited as years-long medical concerns. However, she went back on that promise and was sworn in to serve her 12th term while her case proceeds.

Ironically, Dukes is also a Travis County resident.