Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso is retiring February 28, according to an email sent to Council and the mayor on Thursday and obtained by D Magazine.
The City Council had punted on his annual evaluation since its initial date in August, which was rescheduled for January 11. Instead, the Council went into executive session, then returned and voted to defer until January 25. Typically, Council discusses personnel matters in private before a public vote that reflects what was decided during closed session. That can include anything from a raise to a disciplinary plan.
Caso earned an annual salary of $325,000, making him the third highest paid employee at City Hall. He has been in the role since 2020, although he was named interim city attorney in 2018. He’s been on the city’s payroll since 2005, when he began as an assistant city attorney who defended the city during litigation.
“I will be retiring from the City on February 28 to spend more time with my family and to pursue other interests,” his email reads. “I have greatly enjoyed my 17+ years with the City and look forward to embarking on the next chapter in my life.”
Caso operated a $21 million office that is responsible for drafting ordinances and resolutions and giving the City Council legal advice ahead of their votes. The office, which includes over 160 employees, is one of the largest municipal attorney’s offices in the country. It also is responsible for defending the city from litigation and bringing lawsuits when necessary, like over code enforcement matters.
“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,” read a statement from Mayor Eric Johnson. “We look forward to conducting a thorough national search for our next city attorney.”
Caso has faced criticism on some high-profile legal cases in recent months.
The Dallas City Council approved an ordinance that criminalizes panhandling in roadway medians that are less than 6 feet wide. Similar ordinances passed in places such as Oklahoma City wound up being challenged in court, and weeks later, Dallas was sued.
Caso’s office was also behind an effort to shutter poker rooms that had permission from the city to operate. One of his attorneys said that the city misinterpreted state law and issued certificates of occupancy in error. While gambling is illegal in the state of Texas, the Legislature allowed three carve-outs: the games had to happen in a private place, organizers couldn’t take money off the top, and the players must assume equal risk. The building inspector ruled that these card houses were not private places and should not be able to operate.
There are dozens open in Texas, and Dallas became the first city to challenge their legality. The Board of Adjustment ruled against Caso’s office, but the city then filed suit. There are now two lawsuits winding their way through the courts, which, barring state legislation, could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Texas.
Just about a year ago, the City Council also approved an ordinance that banned sexually oriented businesses from operating from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. because of safety concerns voiced by the police department. A few of those businesses sued the city and a judge ruled in their favor; the city of Dallas is appealing.
Elsewhere, Council will soon vote on a plan that would ban short-term rentals from single family neighborhoods—which is the majority of what Dallas is zoned for. That, too, will likely land the city in court.
He was the only top city official to have a performance review delayed last summer, which also meant that he didn’t get a raise. Since then, Caso’s employment status has been quietly questioned by sources in City Hall as they eyed what Council would do once the evaluation happened. After this month’s executive session, the city attorney moved first.
The City Council will approve an interim replacement while a search is conducted. It’s not clear when that will happen, but they have a little over a month to do it.
Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He’s written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…