In the Collin County courthouse, due process has a funny way of expressing itself: payback, personal vendettas and overzealous prosecutions.

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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.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec