If This Post Seems Like Déjà Vu, There’s A Good Reason: The Texas Law Clerk-Prosecutor [Update]

Justice scales bad

UPDATE: “I don’t understand how this could happen. Since it obviously can, I wonder how many other outrageous conflicts of interest are rotting the justice system while nobody is paying attention.”

That’s how I started this post when I wrote it yesterday. Here’s how I ended this post, from May 17, just four months ago: “…the fact that something like this could happen at all, and for so many years, should have ethics alarms sounding throughout the justice system, and not only in Texas.”

This is because the two posts are about exactly the same episode. The similarities didn’t ring a bell with me at all yesterday. A new appellate court opinion related to the same outrageous Texas conflict of interest breach came down this month, so I treated the whole episode as new. It took commenter Rich in CT’s note to alert me. (Thanks Rich.) So here are my thoughts while banging my head on my desk:

  • I apologize. It’s not as if there aren’t really new and horrible ethics stories to consider, especially in the law and the justice system. It’s OK if I waste my time, but its inexcusable to waste yours.
  • I like the first post better.
  • Silver lining: at least the posts don’t contradict each other.
  • The association of legal ethicists I belong to scooped the ABA on this one, discussing the prosecutor’s conduct long before the legal press caught up to it. One more reason to renew my membership.
  • I could write that this scandal is so outrageous that it is worthy of two posts, and maybe more. It is, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I’m an idiot.
  • I think this has happened to me once before. But what do I know?

Once again, I’m sorry.


The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the 2003 conviction and death sentence of Clinton Lee Young in a Sept. 22 opinion. Why? Oh, just one of those technicalities: on of the prosecutors in the case was moonlighting as a a clerk for the judge in the trial the trial and who considered the the convicted man’s habeas application. That’s all.


The prosecutor, Weldon Ralph Petty, clerked for Midland County, Texas, district court judges on habeas cases from 2001 to 2014 and again in 2017 and 2018. Petty reviewed habeas applications, performed research, and submitted recommendations and proposed orders to the judges with findings of fact and conclusions of law. In Young’s case, Petty was advising prosecutors and drafting motions for them in a trial held before Judge John Hyde, while he was being employed by Hyde. In his work for the judge, Petty drafted an order recommending that the judge deny initial habeas relief in Young’s case while he was opposing the motion as a prosecutor.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said in its per curiam opinion that the judge was astoundingly unethical to permit this, and Petty was incredibly unethical to do it. The district attorney who hired Petty knew that he was working for district court judges, and so did the district attorney who took the first district attorney’s place. Neither said anything about this to the defense. “Judicial and prosecutorial misconduct—in the form of an undisclosed employment relationship between the trial judge and the prosecutor appearing before him—tainted [Young’s] entire proceeding from the outset,” the court said.

Ya think?????

I took 18 years for this rigged conviction to be overturned, all while the victim—and he was a victim, whether he is guilty or not—sat in prison. It took 16 years for it to be discovered. Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf was elected in 2016, and discovered Petty’s work as a judicial clerk after his retirement, when she was in the midst of the 2019 budget process. Her office recused from Petty’s cases and sent notices to about 300 defendants informing them of Petty’s habeas work on their cases.

I hate to say that a disproportionate number of the prosecutor-judge conflict fiascos come from Texas, but a disproportionate number of the prosecutor-judge conflict fiascos come from Texas.

I know you “gots to know”: is Clinton Lee Young black? No, he’s white. This wasn’t racism, it was just an old fashioned, race-blind, betrayal of justice. Judge Hyde died in 2012, and the Texas Supreme Court accepted Petty’s resignation from the bar in April.

I need to take a vacation.

8 thoughts on “If This Post Seems Like Déjà Vu, There’s A Good Reason: The Texas Law Clerk-Prosecutor [Update]

  1. Why can’t the prosecutors be criminally charged? What is up with that? And can this man practice law in other states? Thank you D. A. Nodolf for doing the right thing, finally someone did.

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