Government jobs don’t pay like they used to. And with crippling law school debt growing every day, sometimes these public servants just need to develop a side hustle to make ends meet. Like Weldon Ralph Petty, who took a job in 2001 as a part-time prosecutor and moved to full-time in 2002. Petty worked at the office until 2019, working extensively on criminal cases that put away hundreds of defendants, including Clinton Lee Young, who was sentenced to death row.
Meanwhile, Petty took a side job with the local court system as the judicial clerk to a judge hearing the cases he prosecuted.
And not just working on civil cases for a the same judge — actively drafting memos on other criminal matters his office worked on. If that sounds bad, it gets so much worse because Petty worked for the judge on criminal matters he himself worked on. Including the case of Clinton Lee Young, who kept getting his habeas requests denied and you can guess why, but here’s a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals opinion issued yesterday (credit to Texas Tribune reporter Jolie McCullough whose Tweet flagged this) laying it all out (emphasis added):
This combined evidence demonstrates that, in his role as prosecutor, Petty opposed habeas relief at the writ hearings while at the same time, in his role as judicial clerk to Judge Hyde, he drafted the order recommending the denial of Applicant’s initial 11.071 writ application.
This is after Petty served on the team that put Young on death row in the first place back in 2003. So he got a guy sentenced to death and then systematically argued against the man’s habeas petitions while also writing the opinions denying those petitions. The phrase “judge, jury, and executioner” is intended as a warning, not a career goal.
This went on for years. Judge Hyde, who died in 2012, brought Petty on in 2002 — the same year Petty joined the DA’s office full-time. Petty’s bosses knew this was happening the whole time and, not to channel Scooby-Doo here, but they would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for the fact that a new DA was elected in 2016 who only found out about this arrangement in 2019 when she accidentally stumbled across a county budget document while trying to find money to hire someone else. Now over 300 defendants have been informed that their cases appear to have gotten tainted by this stunning ethical lapse.
Petty didn’t testify in this proceeding citing his Fifth Amendment rights, which seems like a pretty good call under the circumstances. Young’s conviction is vacated and he’s heading back for a new trial.
But the thing that keeps nagging at me is that so many people in this story thought this was acceptable. What are the odds this only happened in one courthouse across the whole state?
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.