Longform

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

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"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:

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec