Weldon Ralph Petty Jr. spent decades working in the Midland County District Attorney’s Office in Texas as a prosecutor before returning in 2018. Just a year later, a scandal was unearthed, showing Petty had spent much of his career working as a clerk for judges on cases in which he was also a prosecutor.
Petty is documented to have worked on both sides of the bench in at least 355 cases, writing decisions and jury instructions. He also gained access to information that aided his cases against defendants. The same corrupt arrangement even occurred in the death-sentence conviction of Clinton Young, a USA Today investigation revealed:
“Petty was part of the legal team that convicted Young in a high-profile capital murder trial two years later. Petty’s roles in the case included amending Young’s indictment, examining witnesses at a pretrial hearing and writing the instructions that jurors took with them to deliberate…
Even after the conviction, Petty continued to work both sides of the bench in Young’s case. As a prosecutor, Petty was responsible for opposing Young’s appeals and writs. At the same time, though, he billed the county for work he did consulting with the judge who recommended that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals deny Young’s appeals. Court filings show that Hyde submitted a document using language identical to what Petty had proposed in Young’s case.”
After spending nearly 20 years behind bars, Young was finally released from custody last month, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a new trial in September 2021 following the revelations about Petty’s misconduct.
Petty not only gained leverage over the justice system in his side gig, but also enriched himself in the process. Records from 2001-2018 show that he made more than $250,000 in clerking for justices, in addition to his yearly prosecutor’s salary of more than $150,000.
Practicing defense attorney Patrick MacFarlane told the Libertarian Institute that Petty’s double-dealing role would create “incredibly difficult” obstacles for any defendant, as “the person making substantive rulings on the case either is the opposing party, or is being unduly influenced by the opposing party.” He added that the clerk-prosecutor was engaged in a “fundamental conflict of interest.”