Piper McCraw received her grand jury summons with just a day's notice. She didn't have to travel far to answer it considering her job was in the same building, the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney. The vaguely neoclassical hulk with its columned entry and glass rotunda was only two years old. Year three was about to dawn as the annus horribilis for a number of the public servants working there, including McCraw.
The 33-year-old felony prosecutor had been called as a witness in the waning days of an investigation into the on-the-job activities of another Collin County official, Greg Willis, a former misdemeanor court judge. Just two months earlier, in October 2009, Willis had announced his candidacy to become the next Collin County district attorney, and the men in charge of the office he was seeking were now investigating him for abusing his office as judge. Then-District Attorney John Roach, though retiring, was no fan of Willis, and he refused to endorse him for the job he was vacating; in fact, he had opposed the appointment of Willis' wife before she became district judge. Roach, by commencing a grand jury investigation of Willis a few weeks after he announced his candidacy, raised the stench of political vendetta.
According to several sources, Special Prosecution Division chief Chris Milner, who was heading the Willis investigation, was pursuing the theory that Willis, as judge, had somehow funneled bigger fees to court-appointed attorneys by conducting trials rather than taking pleas in cases where the defendants were guilty beyond doubt. McCraw was called, along with other prosecutors, because she had been assigned to Willis' court several years earlier.
The grand jury refused to indict Willis, and in an attempt to remove the stain on his political reputation, even took the unusual step of issuing a report completely exonerating him. Willis went on to win the race and is now the district attorney of Collin County. McCraw, however, wasn't as fortunate: She became collateral damage in the investigation.
Because grand jury proceedings are held in secret, McCraw would not divulge the details of what incensed Roach and his lieutenants about the testimony she gave to the grand jury in mid-December 2009. "They didn't tell me what to say in there," she maintains in a recent interview. "Let me just say, they weren't happy with me when it was over."
Shortly after her appearance, McCraw, who had a spotless personnel file, was suspended from her job. One month later, on January 14, 2010, she received a voice mail that she had been fired, effective the following day. The career she envisioned for herself as a life-long prosecutor was over. "They never explained what I supposedly had done," says McCraw, who then set up a criminal defense practice and recently took time off to have a baby. A year after her firing, she found herself reading a Dallas Morning News account that said she had been fired "for insubordination." The line came with no particular attribution but to McCraw the source was clear. "Now they're dragging me through the mud," she says.
That a straight-arrow public servant like McCraw would have her career derailed as a bystander to an investigation with political overtones that eventually went nowhere comes as little surprise to many who watched the last year of Roach's two-term administration. Before 2010 was over, a sitting district judge, the newly elected district clerk and five other clerk's office employees would be under felony indictments.
So what came over placid, conservative Collin County (or as some defense attorneys call it, Colon County, for the lowly way those representing the accused can be treated and the harsh policies used to hammer their clients)?
Some say it was Roach's flinty style and ego, which came with a mean streak and a will to win forged in his early career in Dallas County under the tutelage of famed District Attorney Henry Wade.
Others say it grows from the rock-ribbed tenor of the place. The conservative Republican electorate gives so much deference to those upholding the law that prosecutors start believing they can use their power to investigate and accuse to settle scores with no political risk.
In that atmosphere, what one lawyer called "chicken-shit offenses" can be blown up to felonies and enemies run over by the heavy wheels of criminal indictment, even if a conviction never results.
Others see it as taking root in a locale that has rapidly grown into an urban area, but one with so many family ties and close relationships at the center of things, the county still resembles a small town.
Former Collin County DA Tom O'Connell and former District Judge Verla Sue Holland both admitted in 2008 depositions that they had engaged in a lengthy extramarital affair; a habeas corpus proceeding challenged the fairness of Holland sitting in a capital case that O'Connell had prosecuted years after their relationship had ended. Roach's son, John Roach Jr., is a district judge who did not hear criminal cases until after his father left office, and now Willis has a wife on the bench, who in turn is not hearing criminal matters. It's not unusual for Collin County law offices to feature several generations of attorneys from the same family.
Two sets of headline cases are pending in Collin County today. The first is the October 14, 2010, indictment of state District Judge Suzanne Wooten and three others on multiple bribery charges and one count of engaging in organized crime in connection with the campaign funding of her 2008 primary win against an incumbent judge. The second is the July 29, 2010, indictment of Patricia Crigger, the incoming Collin County district clerk, and five other office supervisors on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. The investigation led by the Texas Rangers alleges that Crigger and other supervisors manipulated employees' time records and granted them time off for various reasons, including time spent campaigning for Crigger. The case was reindicted September 23, 2010.
Defense attorneys in both matters say these cases sprang from courthouse politics, from a runaway district attorney's office that has for years been off its leash, and its former DA who treats professional slights as probable cause for bringing to bear the full investigative power of his office. Roach, in his defense, contends that blaming the prosecutor is just an old criminal lawyer's trick, a way to deflect attention from those who are truly culpable. Either way, the result has been a courthouse shaken to its very foundation, where claims of prosecutorial overreaching, political payback and abusive power games can take precedence over due process of law.
That Greg Willis could do something worthy of investigation was astonishing to many in the courthouse. To Sharon Curtis, president of the Collin County Defense Lawyers Association, it was plain from the timing and lack of substance that this was "a political witch hunt." Willis, she says, "is the kind of individual we all wish served in a powerful position like the district attorney. He has no ego. He wants to do the right thing."
His résumé—starting with the brainy-jock combination of National Honor Society and captain of the football team at Spring High School outside of Houston—includes stints at the top-shelf firm Jones Day LLP, the Collin County DA's office and his own criminal defense practice before he was elected to two terms as judge of Collin County Court at Law No. 6. His GOP credentials, a must in one of the most Republican counties in Texas, were also solid, with appearances as a delegate at the state Republican convention every two years going back to 1998.
Even those who voice respect for Roach paint a picture of a harder-edged man.
Dallas criminal defense attorney Ted Steinke met Roach in the 1970s when they were both working in Wade's Dallas office. "He was and still is a very law-enforcement-oriented person. He is a hard-charger, and he attracted those kinds of personalities in his hires. The Collin County office took on his personality, and it rubbed a lot of the local defense bar the wrong way," Steinke says.
On the job starting in 2003, Roach was fastidious—perfectly suited, not a silver hair out of place. He possessed the posture of an Olympic diver—and was formal, insisting he be called "Judge Roach" in deference to his nearly 17 years on the bench of the 199th Judicial District Court in Collin County and nearly four on the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas.
Others saw something else, some deep flaws behind the obvious intelligence and strong ego. "He has a mean streak. He's a games-player and he's gonna win," says Bill Baumbach, a print shop manager and blogger who has been following Roach the past four years for his Web site, The Collin County Observer, which broke the story of the Willis investigation and followed it to conclusion.
Howard Shapiro, a long-time Collin County criminal defense attorney with no interest in the current cases, says, "I've known John for 40 years and he's an honorable man." He went on to say that, "John Roach is self-righteous...and he's been that way his entire career."
There's evidence Roach didn't care for Willis, although nobody, not even confidantes of the new DA, knows why.
In 2008, when Willis' wife Jill was up for an appointment by Governor Rick Perry to a state district judgeship to fill an unexpired term, Roach opposed her and made his views known to people vetting candidates. Perry picked her anyway. And when Roach at age 64 announced he would retire, Greg Willis approached Roach for an endorsement but none ever came.
The grand jury probe that threatened to do much harm to Willis' candidacy was rooted in a Roach office policy that drove defense lawyers to distraction, a policy one won't find in Dallas or Tarrant counties today.
According to several lawyers, including one close to Willis, Roach would not permit his assistants to dismiss cases, even weak ones or cases that had fallen apart. Instead, they'd take it to a judge and have the judge find the defendant not guilty in a so-called bench trial, without a jury.
"It's unfair to the judges because these would be things like weak DWI cases," one defense lawyer says. With Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others assembling report cards on elected judges, a judge with numerous dismissals could be construed to be "weak."
Willis, the source says, nudged prosecutors and asked them to help even the score by trying a few cases in front of him that were likely to result in guilty verdicts. "The allegation was that these cases should have been dispatched with guilty pleas and that court-appointed defense attorneys were collecting bigger fees [by trying them]," the source says. That ended up being unfounded because all the defense lawyers in the cases at issue were privately hired, the source says.
The grand jury investigating Willis did not return an indictment against him by the end of its term in December 2009. And to quell any lasting taint that Roach's probe might have spread, it went further by issuing a report.
In the brief statement, the jurors wrote that nothing that happened in Willis' court could in any way be construed to be a crime. "While Judge Greg Willis may have run his court in a manner that is different than another judge may run theirs, that is not a crime and should not be viewed as one," they said.
Roach declines to discuss the Willis grand jury or his successor. "I don't have an opinion on him at all," he says.
With no damage inflicted, Willis won 65 percent of the vote in the three-candidate March Republican primary and 73 percent in the November general election. He took office the first of the year.
Looking back, criminal defense attorney Deric Walpole wished he hadn't avoided what might have been a caustic conversation with Chris Milner, then one of Roach's top assistants. Milner had taken an interest in a misdemeanor case Walpole was defending arising from "an old man's dispute with a bank."
Rather than drop off a discovery motion in the case with Milner on a Friday afternoon, Walpole went to another prosecutor working in the court where the case had been filed. His earlier conversation with Milner had been contentious, so he was trying to avoid a bit more unpleasantness, he recalls.
Within two hours of Walpole filing his paperwork, records show, Milner went to work unsealing an unrelated year-and-a-half-old case that Walpole had defended. His purpose: to pursue a felony criminal charge against Walpole.
"With me, it wasn't anything political. It was personal. It was petty. I'd ticked them off," Walpole says. "And if it's something they could have convicted me on, they never would have let it go."
On December 11, 2003, Walpole was indicted and arrested on a charge of tampering with a government record, a state jail felony for which he could have been locked up for two years.
The alleged offense involved a motion he had filed in a hard-fought aggravated assault/family violence case he had defended. He failed to have an affidavit to the motion notarized before he filed it with the court. Several days later, when it was brought to his attention, he had a court clerk notarize the document, which was already in brads in the court file and had the earlier time stamp on it. "For that I was charged with, let me read it, 'with an intent to defraud or harm, intentionally impaired the verity of a governmental record,'" he says. "That's just bullshit."
The charge caused a lot of worry for his wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time, Walpole adds. But his law partner offered him a free defense. He got the case dismissed in early 2004, before it went to trial.
Felony prosecutions against two other defense attorneys for what were widely seen as petty offenses involving routine legal matters led to an air of intimidation. And Milner, who declined to return several phone calls seeking comment for this story, gained the reputation as Roach's unchained attack dog.
"They were just warming up on me," Walpole says. "It started with filing bullshit cases on lawyers, and they just kept ramping it up until they started going after judges and clerks. I don't think any of those people did anything wrong."
In July, six women, several of whom are old enough to be grandmothers, were arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime. The term normally associated with thick-necked guys with nicknames like Fat Tony or Jimmy the Weasel was being applied to timekeeping matters involving the incoming Collin County district clerk and five other clerk's office supervisors.
Since the early 1990s, after Hannah Kunkle was elected district clerk, employees were given time off through a system called the "blue book," according to an affidavit filed by a Texas Ranger investigating the case. This was an informal system of awarding days off, beyond regular vacations and holidays. (The most recent blue book was actually a red spiral notebook, the investigation found.)
Hourly employees, whose time was monitored by swipe-card readers at the doors, were required to leave their cards behind so supervisors could clock them in and make certain that those extra days off were paid. An office memo had been sent laying out the procedure.
Last March, five unnamed employees blew the whistle on the system and the way it had allegedly become enmeshed with Chief Deputy District Clerk Patricia Crigger's campaign to succeed Kunkle, who was retiring. They told state investigators that clerk-employees were encouraged to campaign for Crigger, whom Kunkle endorsed as her successor and who easily won the primary that month, and that employees had been given "blue book time" off in return for their work on Crigger's behalf.
In addition, district clerk employees were accused of using county computers and office time to work on campaign materials. Crigger allegedly used her computer during work hours to create her campaign "bio" and compose and transmit an endorsement letter purportedly written by Kunkle, according to the Ranger's affidavit.
"I am the campaign queen around here and Patricia has named my truck the "Campaignmobile," wrote defendant Sherry Bell, who managed the civil family section, in an e-mail quoted in the affidavit. "I have her signs as well as the signs for the man that is running for District Attorney who happens to be the husband of the Judge that I have started going to church with." That would be the Willis couple.
In thick filings with headings such as "Notice of Overt Acts of the Combination" and a dump of 1,300 pages of records by Roach's assistants, there's evidence that clerks were doing election work on taxpayer time.
It was politics, however, that suddenly had people blowing the whistle on what appears to have been a customary policy in the clerk's office to juggle records to account for time off, Crigger's lawyer, Bob Hinton, says. And that assertion leads straight to DA Roach.
"This is politics at its Collin County worst," Hinton says. "It's the way things happened there. You have the king and you have the serfs."
Some of the whistleblowers are clerks permanently assigned to the court of Judge John Roach Jr., the son of the DA who also was up for re-election in 2010, Hinton says. The judge wanted Crigger's people to hold up his campaign signs at polling sites along with Crigger's. They didn't, contends Hinton, and all of a sudden Roach's clerks were lined up to spill the beans on the "blue book" system and how it was employed to help Crigger's campaign.
The elder Roach refuses to identify the whistleblowers but confirmed he and his son played a role in bringing the case forward.
"There are only a few people who you can trust at the courthouse. One of those persons was me and the other was my son, Judge Roach. Whoever these whistleblowers are, they first reported it to him, he reported it to me and I reported it to the Texas Rangers."
In the strongest terms, though, both Roach and his son say Hinton's scenario of political payback is wrong.
"That is just not true," Judge John Roach Jr. says of Hinton's account. "I never discussed my campaign with Ms. Crigger or her staff nor did I ever ask her people to campaign for me."
He says a single employee, not assigned to his court, came forward with allegations. "I was alerted to the possibility a crime was being committed to the detriment of the taxpayers of Collin County. I had no choice but to report it," he maintains, adding that he reported it to his father, the DA. "They could have found nothing. They found a lot and that led to indictments."
Hinton contends that there was nothing illegal about the way time off was awarded and that a similar system had been used in the elder Roach's office.
Indeed, in an affidavit filed in the case last October, prosecutors revealed that workers in the district attorney's office had a similar system of awarding extra time off. It said the DA office's timekeeper "believes that 'everyone' in the county was altering employees' time records, including persons in the Collin County Human Resources Department."
"This is also our defense," Hinton says. "They relied on the fact that if the district attorney's office was doing it, the thing must be legal."
Kunkle, reached at her house in Anna, says she never had to deal with running a campaign while in office because she didn't have an opponent during her six terms dating back to 1987. She says she warned employees about doing campaign work on taxpayer time, and as far as she knows, everyone who worked on Crigger's campaign took legitimate paid time off.
Collin County Courthouse is rife with "politics," "personal grudges" and "envy and jealousy," and all are behind the case against her successor, she says, declining to be more specific.
Of the indictments, she says, "This never should have happened. Nobody did anything wrong."
In late January, Hinton and lawyers for the other five clerk defendants met with special prosecutor John Helms in a closed-door conference. According to Hinton, the prosecutor told them that the organized crime charges would be dropped and a new grand jury would be asked to explore whether there were campaign activities on taxpayer time that violated other laws. Helms did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Crigger, who ran unopposed in the general election, took office in January and her name is now routinely stamped on courthouse filings, as if nothing is amiss. She's two months on the job; all charges remain pending.
The word "feud" has been used to describe the relationship between John Roach and state District Judge Suzanne Wooten, who clearly has gotten the worst of it since she unseated a Roach ally in 2008 and took her district court bench.
Wooten was indicted on bribery and organized crime charges in October. Wooten, on the other hand, had a role in assembling the grand jury that in December indicted Roach's first assistant DA Greg Davis on a records tampering charge.
According to some courthouse observers, neither case seems to have been made by clean hands. They grow out of efforts to push the law and legal procedures to the limit to yield criminal charges. "They tried every way in the world to get Wooten indicted to no success. Then they finally succeed with this last grand jury. It's plain these allegations have no merit," attorney Shapiro says.
He's just as critical of the grand jury that indicted Davis, which happened to include the father of Wooten's lawyer and several others such as lawyers Walpole and Piper McCraw who have reason to be less than objective about Roach and his office. "These appointments are supposed to be a coincidence. I've been a defense lawyer here 37 years. I've never been asked to be on a grand jury," Shapiro says.
The charge against Wooten, who is currently suspended with pay by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, stems from her successful GOP primary campaign in the spring of 2008 that unseated three-term incumbent Judge Charles Sandoval. Sandoval, the only Collin County judge to face an opponent in that election, might have been vulnerable all on his own, given that he had the lowest scores of any judge in the county in the election year bar poll. Some 46 percent of attorneys participating in the poll gave him the lowest rating—needs improvement—on impartiality, for example.
But Wooten, a McKinney family lawyer and mediator before her run, also came on with a crack campaign. She used radio ads on WBAP, home of GOP-friendly conservative talk hosts, and outspent Sandoval $125,000 to $43,000.
Most of that money Wooten collected after she had won the primary, campaign finance reports show. Prosecutors allege that the front-end financing was provided by a Park Cities couple who had a case in Sandoval's court, and that their payment of $150,000 to Wooten's Austin-area campaign consultant constitutes bribery.
David Cary, chief operating officer for TDi Technologies, a security software company with headquarters in Plano, had lost a custody battle in a bench trial before Sandoval in 2006. The next year, the judge ordered $50,000 in sanctions against Cary for filing motions the judge said were designed to harass his ex-wife.
The indictment against Cary, his current wife Stacy Cary, campaign consultant Steve Spencer and Judge Wooten details six payments, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 made by the Cary couple to Spencer between January 4, 2008, and March 14, 2008, about two weeks after the primary. It alleges that the money was paid for favorable rulings by Wooten in pending cases involving the Carys but gives no details of how the money flowed or which rulings or cases were involved.
In a November arraignment hearing that received no media coverage, Brian Chandler, an assistant state attorney general brought in as a special prosecutor after the investigation had begun, explained to state District Judge Kerry Russell, a visiting judge from Tyler, a few critical details about the case:
"It's the state's position that there were certain funds that came from the Carys that were directed to Spencer. Acting as Judge Wooten's campaign manager, Mr. Spencer made direct campaign expenditures on behalf of Judge Suzanne Wooten. Those contributions were not reported and we believe that this whole scheme in directing these funds to Spencer was done to curry favor and to have Suzanne Wooten run for the position, to be elected, and when she was elected, rule in favor of the Carys."
Bruce Anton, Spencer's attorney, was just as succinct in previewing his defense: "Mr. Spencer had an independent contractual relationship with the Carys," he said. The payments were "income derived. It had nothing to do with the campaign but was for other legitimate work that he was doing for the Carys."
Spencer, operating as a company called SpenOff Strategies, had a consulting contract with Stacy Cary going back to 2007 in which he was obligated to help the Carys with regulatory matters involving several oil and gas, electric energy and other projects, one source claimed later. Spencer had been a campaign consultant on only one other campaign before Wooten's, the source added.
Although David Cary filed to reopen his divorce case within a month after Wooten took the bench, the judge recused herself and made no rulings in the matter. The only thing she has ever done that appears to have benefited the Carys was to unseat the judge who had ruled against them in the first place.
And from late February to August, 2008, Wooten paid Spencer's firm about $92,000 in various installments, with most of the payments coming after the primary when contributions flowed in. The payments are marked as going for radio buys, direct mail, campaign consulting and other election expenses, according to her filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.
In a January 25 motion asking Russell to quash the indictment, Wooten's attorney, Peter Schulte, contended that Texas law requires that in bribery cases involving campaign contributions, prosecutors much allege and prove there was an "express agreement" between the person giving the campaign money and the public official. The defense denies there was ever such an agreement.
The indictment is also faulty, according to the motion, because it should have spelled out what rulings Wooten is alleged to have made in return for accepting campaign money.
Wooten's legal team of Schulte and Toby Shook fought to thwart prosecutors for a year-and-a-half while at least three different grand juries were investigating, and they repeatedly accused Roach's office of carrying on a political vendetta. Roach's office only recused itself from the case last July.
Citing a gag order issued in November, Schulte declined to be interviewed for this story.
"It was the Attorney General who brought the last part of the case to the grand jury and got six indictments against not only Judge Wooten but three other people," Roach now says. "Any idea that this is politically motivated has no basis in fact. It's an absolutely outrageous, stupid statement and if it's coming from the defense it means they're just trying to convince the possible jury pool that there's some kind of misconduct here."
The defense ascribes political motive to the prosecution in part from the doggedness with which it pursued the judge. In a court filing last June, Schulte recounted an October 2009 meeting with Milner, the red-meat prosecutor on the case at the outset, that seemed to go beyond the normal scope of prosecuting law breakers.
Milner demanded that Wooten resign her bench, Schulte said in the court document. He said Milner told him, "Judge Roach looks favorably upon public servants who accept responsibility for their actions and resign." When Schulte asked what the accusations were, Milner told him, "She knows what she did." When Schulte went on to say he couldn't advise his client to resign in the face of undisclosed allegations, Milner let loose: She needed to resign to avoid the taking of "her law license, her family, her home, her liberty and her reputation," the motion quotes Milner as demanding.
The investigation got going the day after Wooten's election in November 2008, Schulte alleges. In a meeting between executive level prosecutors in Roach's office and the defeated judge, Sandoval made the claim that Wooten "must have cheated."
In that motion and others, Schulte has attacked the lengthy process that led to the indictment. He is presently challenging whether special prosecutor Chandler's appointment passes legal muster, because at one time he was working directly for Roach on the case and Roach recused himself.
If Schulte can either dislodge the indictment or the special prosecutor, the matter would likely die because nobody expects Willis would take up the mantle.
That appears to have happened in the shortest-running indictment of the whole saga, the late-December indictment of Greg Davis, Roach's top assistant.
The grand jury indictment grew from Davis' work as the lead prosecutor in the clerks matter. In October, the DA's office disclosed in a legal filing that the district attorney's office also had a policy of altering time records to indicate some employees were at work when they were not. The document said about 40 employees had been granted time off for good conduct. It was accompanied by another court filing in which the DA's office recused itself from prosecuting the six clerks.
The Davis indictment alleged he "intentionally and knowingly made, presented, and used a government record with knowledge of its falsity," a state jail felony. Davis had reported in an October filing in the clerks' cases that he had "first learned" of the DA's time-off program on three dates in October. In fact, he learned about them some months earlier because it had been raised by the clerks' defense lawyers," says Ted Steinke, Davis' attorney. "It was a tortured reading by the grand jury, but that's how they did it," he adds.
The indictment had a major legal problem, though. It didn't spell out what was allegedly false. "Everybody, including me as his lawyer, was left to guess exactly what the falsity was," Steinke says.
Within a week, the charge was quashed on this technical point.
No betting person, including Steinke, expects anyone to have an interest in resurrecting it. Wooten's grand jury, which in Steinke's view hardly passed the smell test of impartiality, has seen its term expire. And the special prosecutor lost his authority with it.
"I hope the new administration isn't going to revisit it," Steinke says.
To the elder Roach, this was just an attempt at payback. "This grand jury was created for the purpose of investigating my office. I believe Judge Wooten has stated to other persons I have statements from that she was going to pay the bastard back for daring to investigate a district judge....
"There's a lot going on in Collin County that people don't know about," Roach concludes. "Much of the push-back that is coming toward me, my office and my administration is the result of our inquiry into those things."
Usually when a reporter telephones a freshly elected official, and is persistent about it, the official or a spokesman calls back. They tend to welcome the chance to talk about their new policies, their new hires, the new energy they intend to bring to the job.
It was odd, then, and a sign of the times at the courthouse, when newly elected District Attorney Greg Willis didn't return a phone call for this story. Then, after two weeks of silence, his lawyer, Michael Pezzulli, phoned.
"When you have a sitting district judge under indictment, a bunch of Collin County employees under indictment, an assistant DA for Collin County indicted...With that much stuff going on, the most you're gonna get out of the DA himself from an ethics standpoint is, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, 'No comment and don't quote me on that,'" Pezzulli says. "Greg thought rather than tell you that, I'm calling about it."
As much as that demonstrates the poisoned atmosphere fogging up the courthouse, exhaustion has also set in after a year of turmoil.
"People want this in the past. They're tired of talking about it," says criminal defense attorney Curtis.
In Willis' office, Roach's top assistants, including Davis and Milner, were let go and the top posts are filling up with new hires.
As Willis' stand-in Pezzulli put it, "You're already seeing a lot of change in that office. It's a new day."