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Texas Prosecutor Spent 20-Year Career Also Working as Law Clerk to Judges He Appeared Before

by Kevin W. Bliss
Ralph Petty— retired prosecuting attorney of Midland County, Texas—has been accused of manipulating justice to meet his own ends for the 20 years he served in that role.

Petty served as assistant district attorney for Midland County, Texas, from 2000 to 2020. Incredibly, during that time, he also served as a law clerk to the judges of the same courts in which he tried cases. By day, he would argue the State’s cause against criminal defendants and by night write the opinions for the judges on the motions filed in these and other cases that came before the bench, including his first big case that sent Clinton Young to death row in 2003. It is estimated that Petty violated the due process rights of over 300 defendants in this fashion.

Disturbingly, Petty cannot be prosecuted for his actions. He is protected by prosecutorial and qualified immunity, two layers of security that effectively allow Petty to avoid accountability for anything he did as prosecutor.

Erma Wilson, represented by Institute for Justice attorney Alexa Gervasi, is currently trying to change that. She contends that she was wrongfully convicted for possession, receiving an eight year suspended sentence and eliminating the possibility of fulfilling her life’s dream of becoming a licensed nurse. Wilson filed suit against Petty on April 11, 2021, emphasizing the depth of the corruption Petty exhibited subverting justice in this fashion. She is asking for the judge to rule that Petty was acting outside the scope of his official prosecutorial duties in a willful and malicious manner, defeating the immunity he enjoys as a prosecutor.

“There is nothing that can be done to give me back the past 20 years of my life or my missed nursing career, but I can ensure that similar violations don't happen to others,” stated Wilson.

“What this case will do is show why absolute immunity in any respect is wrong. It creates incentive to do wrong and violate the Constitution,” Gervasi said.


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