Texas attorney Weldon Ralph Petty Jr was a busy guy at the Midland County courthouse. By day he appeared before judges as an assistant district attorney. By night, he worked as a law clerk for some of the same judges, sometimes advising them regarding the criminal cases he was prosecuting. This went on for more than a decade.
You don’t have to be a legal ethics whiz to figure out that such conduct isn’t ethical. Prosecutors are barred from privately communicating with judges about cases or matters even indirectly related to their cases. Judges and their clerks are forbidden from disclosing the discussions and in chambers considerations regarding cases to prosecutors or defense attorneys.
Thus Petty, 78, was flagrantly violating ethics rules by simultaneously acting as a prosecutor and a paid adviser to supposedly impartial judges, who were also breaching judicial ethics to a spectacular degree by allowing him to do so. A February story published by USA Today first reported that Petty was paid by judges as a clerk in at least 350 cases from 2001 until his retirement as an assistant district attorney in mid-2019. Seventy-three defendants, maybe more, that Petty prosecuted are in prison. A court opinion issued April 28 calls for overturning Midland County’s only death penalty case due to Petty’s prosecutorial misconduct and the judge’s failure to recuse himself, so Clinton Lee Young, who has been on death row since Petty prosecuted him in 2003, will get a new trial.