A Texas woman found guilty of drug possession has sued over the decades-old conviction, claiming her case was one of more than 300 tainted by a prosecutor who was simultaneously doing legal work for the judges hearing those cases.
The federal lawsuit filed Monday by Erma Wilson is part of the continued fallout from Weldon Petty’s years working for the Midland County District Attorney’s Office while also being paid as a law clerk for judges before whom he argued criminal cases.
Wilson was charged with drug possession in 2000 and maintained her innocence through a trial and unsuccessful appeal of her conviction. In the lawsuit, she alleges that Petty drafted important decisions for the judge overseeing her case while also advising his fellow prosecutors on it, violating her civil rights.
Wilson, who now lives in Austin with her family, said the felony conviction scuttled her dreams of becoming a nurse and made it more difficult to support her children. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Petty, who retired as a prosecutor in 2019, declined to comment, saying over the phone that he was not aware of the lawsuit. A lawyer for Midland County, which is 330 miles west of Dallas, said they have not been served with the suit and don’t comment on pending litigation.
Petty’s dual roles were brought to light last year in reporting by USA Today, which showed that the cases in which he worked for both prosecutors and judges included that of death-row prisoner Clinton Young.
Texas’ top criminal court threw out Young’s murder conviction last year and the state’s high civil court disbarred Petty.
Court records state that during an evidentiary hearing in Young’s appeal, Petty refused to testify about his paid work for the judge, citing a constitutional privilege against self-incrimination.