Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso says he will retire on Feb. 28.
This comes nearly a week before the City Council was expected to give him his latest performance review, which has been delayed twice in five months.
In an email to Mayor Eric Johnson and the City Council on Thursday, Caso said he was retiring to spend more time with his family and to pursue other unidentified interests.
“I have greatly enjoyed my 17 plus years with the city and look forward to embarking on the next chapter in my life,” Caso, 62, wrote in the brief message. It is not immediately clear who will be appointed interim city attorney. Caso did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Caso’s retirement comes as Dallas continues to face high-profile legal battles defending new city rules that his office signed off on aimed at shutting down poker houses, cutting strip club operating hours and limiting panhandling.
Johnson in a statement said Dallas would do a “thorough national search” for the next city attorney.
“We thank Chris Caso for his years of dedicated service to the city of Dallas, and we wish him well in all of his future endeavors,” the mayor said.
Council member Gay Donnell Willis, who is chair of the council’s ad hoc administrative affairs committee, confirmed that the council would likely appoint an interim city attorney either this week or next.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he also had well wishes for Caso.
“Chris has been a great partner and committed public servant during his tenure with the city of Dallas,” Broadnax said.
Caso has been licensed as an attorney in Texas since 1985, was first hired by the city in 2005 and worked his way up from assistant city attorney representing the city in court cases and trials, including property and contract disputes.
As Dallas city attorney, Caso is the third-highest-paid city employee making $325,000 annually overseeing an office with a nearly $21 million budget this year and more than 160 workers. He was appointed interim city attorney in August 2018 and has held the position permanently since April 2020.
Caso was one of four top city officials appointed by the City Council who was supposed to be evaluated in August, but he was the only one whose review was delayed, which meant he also received no raise. The council voted to delay Caso’s review a second time on Jan. 11. They planned to discuss his evaluation again in a closed door meeting next Wednesday.
The City Council has not publicly said why its has repeatedly delayed Caso’s performance evaluation. He said during a September council budget meeting that elected officials raised concerns about prosecutions of code violations under his watch, saying they needed to be resolved more quickly.
In response, the council approved shifting more money to his office to hire four more community prosecutors. The community prosecution division is the city’s civil law enforcement arm, which upholds city ordinances and state nuisance laws.
The City Attorney’s Office oversees drafting of ordinances and resolutions, providing legal advice to the City Council and city departments and defending the city against litigation, as well as pursuing lawsuits meant to improve residents’ quality of life, among other duties.
Caso is retiring amid several legal challenges launched last year related to city rules and regulations.
The City Council last January approved banning strip clubs and all other sexually oriented businesses from being open between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., citing violent crime that mostly occurs overnight near strip clubs. A federal lawsuit against Dallas followed and led to the city holding off on enforcing the ban. A judge in May ruled in favor of several businesses suing the city and barred the city from regulating sexually oriented businesses’ operating hours. The city is appealing the ruling.
The city is also facing several lawsuits after approving, and later banning, poker clubs from legally operating in Dallas.
City attorneys and building officials argued they misinterpreted the state’s law on gambling until 2021 and erroneously issued certificates of occupancy to poker businesses that year. Three of them operate in Dallas.
Caso publicly told council members during a 2019 meeting that the poker businesses were legal, which has been cited in legal arguments by operators as why they believe the city was wrong to revoke or discontinue to grant certifications.
A Dallas Board of Adjustment panel last year allowed two poker businesses to keep operating by overturning the city’s decision to revoke the poker clubs’ certificates of occupancy. The city has since sued the citizen board and the two businesses. Taxpayer dollars are being spent to represent both sides in the two lawsuits that have been filed against the board of adjustment.
A judge at the end of last year ruled in favor of the city’s decision to revoke one business’ certification, which will be appealed.
The City Council could decide next Wednesday whether to spend up to $600,000 in legal fees continuing to sue and defend the board of adjustment.
Meanwhile, the city has also sued the third poker business, citing code violations in an attempt to shut it down and three other lawsuits have been filed against Dallas by poker businesses that were denied certificates of occupancy after the city reversed its stance on whether the establishments were legal.
The city was also sued in December over a new ordinance that subjects people to fines up to $500 for standing on road medians. The Dallas restriction was approved by the City Council in October and bans pedestrians from standing or walking on roadway medians less than 6 feet wide, in the middle of streets without medians and in clear zones like bike lanes and road shoulders.
The City Attorney’s Office since at least 2021 has publicly presented the restriction as a way to address complaints stemming from people panhandling while on the dividing strip or in the middle of streets where there is no median. It was rebranded by city officials in the months leading up to the City Council’s Oct. 26 approval as being driven by pedestrian traffic safety concerns.
The lawsuit argues the median ban is unconstitutional and will disproportionately impact homeless residents.