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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"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.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec