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Attorneys for embattled state Rep. Dawnna Dukes allege unethical behavior by prosecutors

Dawnna Dukes’ attorneys fired back Thursday, accusing Travis County prosecutors of behaving inappropriately and trying to manipulate key witnesses in the state lawmaker's high-profile corruption case.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, on the House floor Aug. 2, 2017.

After prosecutors publicized information showing embattled state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, had spent more than $51,000 on an online psychic, Dukes’ attorneys fired back Thursday, accusing Travis County prosecutors of behaving inappropriately and trying to manipulate witnesses in the state representatives’ high-profile corruption case.

Lawyers for Dukes argued in a response to prosecutors that Margaret Moore, the district attorney leading the charges against Dukes, had “attempted to pressure” key witnesses familiar with Dukes’ on-the-job spending into giving false statements. Attorney Shaun Clarke also called the charges publicized by Moore’s office Wednesday about Dukes’ personal spending and irregular attendance at the Texas Legislature a “smear job.”

“I’m actually shocked that any seemingly ethical prosecutor would file a piece of garbage like that,” he said.

A spokesperson for Moore did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Dukes’ filing late Thursday followed news from the previous day that Dukes had failed to turn over a cell phone to investigators and spent more than $51,000 on an online psychic, according to a legal filing prepared by prosecutors. Dukes is accused of using her legislative to staff run personal errands and being compensated for days she did not work at the Texas Capitol.

In their Wednesday filing, prosecutors chronicled 19 “extraneous acts” they intended to share with a jury about Dukes’ behavior as a state lawmaker, including that she had been recorded absent for more than half of roll calls taken during the 2017 legislative session and that she once admitted during a public hearing to be “full of morphine.”

Dukes’ attorney countered that prosecutors should have known that those accusations were irrelevant to Dukes' corruption charges and didn’t have “a chance on God’s green earth” of being admitted into evidence by a judge. Clarke accused prosecutors of publishing the information solely to prejudice a jury against Dukes.

A Travis County grand jury in January indicted Dukes on two charges of abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Those charges allege that Dukes used her legislative staff to work on the African-American Community Heritage Festival and be a live-in nanny for her daughter.

At the same time, Dukes was charged with 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Those charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to.

But Travis County prosecutors put their felony case on hold earlier this month after a key witness’s story changed about the official paperwork that Dukes was accused of having falsified. Dukes' attorneys now claim that Moore inappropriately pressured that witness.

In June, the 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty to tampering with a governmental record and abuse of official capacity by a public servant. Judge Brad Urrutia set a trial date for the misdemeanor trial of Oct. 16.

Dukes’ attorneys have asked the judge to either throw out the felony case or to deny prosecutors’ request to delay the felony trial.

“It is time for D.A. Moore to either prove the felony charges in open Court,” Dukes’ attorneys wrote in their Thursday filing, “or admit to this Court and the public what she already knows — that she never should have filed them.”

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