Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Collin County Judge Suzanne Wooten won’t receive speedy trial
No speedy trial for Wooten means no speedy relief from the burden this case has created for the taxpayers.
The multiple count felony case against Suzanne Wooten, judge of the 380th State District Court in Collin County, was first set to go to trial on June 20 and then moved to August 20. Judge Wooten’s legal team filed a motion for a speedy trial and the trial date was moved to August 15. Now, the case has completely fallen off Collin County’s judicial radar. Judge Kerry Russell, the visiting judge from Tyler hearing the Wooten matter, speculated the trial might not begin until “perhaps 2012” due to the filing of a new indictment with two new charges and the surprise introduction of a Federal Bureau of Investigation report.
During Wooten’s pre-trial conference hearing held on July 29, it was unclear if any of the many trial dates were ever more than tentative. However, one thing was made perfectly clear, Judge Wooten’s desire to obtain an acquittal on all charges before her 2012 re-election bid was crushed by the new indictment and by a last minute discovery release made by Harry White, the special prosecutor from the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
The day before July’s pre-trial conference, prosecutor Harry White provided Wooten’s defense team of Peter Schulte and Toby Shook with a 48-page FBI report he planned to use as potential evidence. This report was in White’s possession since July 6. White denied the report was held back for the purpose of delaying the trial, but claimed he was too busy to send it to Wooten’s lawyers until the day before the pre-trial conference. The report was the result of a complaint made by Wooten and Schulte to the FBI in April 2010. The report most likely concerned the actions of former District Attorney John R. Roach and his nearly non-stop grand jury proceedings against Judge Wooten since her election in 2008.
The FBI report was heavily redacted, and White volunteered some of the redactions were made by the Attorney General’s office. On hearing this, Judge Russell ordered the FBI report be given to Wooten’s lawyers just as the Attorney General received it. In discussing the report both sides speculated it might result in White and/ or Schulte being called to testify. Judge Russell stated he “hoped that would not happen.” Such an action could result in Schulte and White being removed from the case and cause further delay.
Wooten’s attorney, Peter Schulte, said he was “ready for trial on the original indictment” and wished to go to trial on August 15, but would not be able to do so on the new indictment. Because the new indictment was timely filed, Judge Russell asked Schulte to provide a citation to law as to why the case shouldn’t go to trial under the new indictment. Schulte had nothing to cite. Judge Russell acknowledged Schulte’s frustration with the new indictment and discovery being made so late in the process and then dismissed the old indictment and ordered all records transferred into the new case number. Schulte said due the new developments in the case and also because of his own trial date conflicts, he would not be ready go forward until late October. Judge Russell ordered all attorneys to provide him with their trial schedules making it seem he would personally find a date that works for everyone. Judge Russell also ordered there be no new discovery “unless it was for a very good reason.”
The lengthy hearing was broken into morning and afternoon sessions and was sparsely attended by the public. Non-party observers included two Wooten supporters seated with her; a staff reporter from the Dallas Morning News, who attended the morning session; David Waddill, Collin County’s First Assistant District Attorney, and seated in the back of the courtroom as was Michael P. Gibson. Dallas attorney Gibson is one the top white-collar criminal defense attorneys in America and outside the courtroom during the lunch break he was surrounded like a rock star by the lawyers in the case. It is unknown if Gibson has or will have any connection with case against Wooten or her co-defendants David and Stacy Cary, and James Stephen Spencer.
Harry White stated he was “shocked to learn that the deliberations of the grand jury had been secretly recorded.” White’s comment was without context and seemingly came straight out of the blue. Judge Russell stated he “was not from around here, but back home in Smith County, grand jury deliberations were absolutely privileged.” From the back of the courtroom, Waddill spoke to the practices of the Collin County District Attorney’s office back in 2008, stating he did not believe there were any audio recordings, but he was not in the DA’s office at the time of the several Wooten grand jury hearings. While there was a court reporter present during the hearings, the consensus of opinion was there were no audio recordings.
After establishing the non-existence of audio recordings, White’s faux "shock’" seamlessly set the stage for an extensive debate over grand jury witness summaries that had or had not been provided to Wooten’s lawyers.
Schulte asked if an auditor from the Office of the Attorney General, Kyle Swihart, had given grand jury testimony and if so why wasn’t he given a summary of his testimony. Harry White stated Swihart had testified, but it was the Attorney General’s policy to not give testimony summaries of their own employees to defense attorneys. White further stated no court reporter was present when Kyle Swihart testified. Not deterred by this information, Judge Russell ordered White to provide a summary of Swihart’s testimony to Wooten’s lawyers.
David and Stacy Cary’s attorney, Barry Keith Gore, filed a motion to withdraw representation. Stacy Cary’s new lawyer will be Heather Barbieri of Plano. However, David Cary had no new attorney and Judge Russell would not grant Gore’s motion to withdraw until Cary has representation and all of the case files were transferred to the new attorney.
Even if withdrawing from the case wasn’t Gore’s idea, it is no small wonder Gore would be happy walk away as he may be a little too close to the fire that underlies the case against Wooten and her co-defendants. Last year Keith Gore’s primary campaign for the right to hold the gavel in the 296th State District Court was in part funded by David Cary and Gore’s campaign consultant was none other than James Stephen Spencer.
Wooten’s numerous supporters claim the case is nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt. Wooten successfully ran and won the first ever-Republican primary challenge against a sitting State District Judge in Collin County. The defeat of District Attorney John Roach’s long time friend, Judge Charles Sandoval, is said to have motivated the six or more grand jury investigations against Judge Wooten.
If former District Attorney John Roach is as vengeful as detractors claim, then having the same cast of characters mount the second only Republican primary challenge against his own son, Judge John Roach, Jr., could only add fuel to his alleged fury over the defeat of Judge Sandoval. Roach’s son won the March primary contest by less than five points over Gore. Judge Wooten, the Cary’s and James Stephen Spencer were finally indicted six months later.
The most bizarre event of the hearing took place when an attorney for Judge Jill Willis, the wife of Collin County’s current District Attorney, requested a ruling on a motion to quash a subpoena issued to Judge Willis. The subpoena requested testimony from Willis regarding a closed door meeting with a dozen senior Collin County judges sometime before September 2009. When informed that no record of the meeting was made, Judge Russell stated the idea of a closed-door meeting between judges with no record being made of it was “foreign” to him. Other judges, Rusch and Roach, Jr., had cooperated with White, but Judge Willis has refused to speak with him. Judge Willis’ attorney, Michael Pezzulli is an expert on attorney-client privilege and has co-authored a book on the subject for the American Bar Association. Pezzulli argued the subpoena for Judge Willis’ testimony should be denied on the grounds that an attorney-client privilege existed during the meeting of the judges. Judge Russell seemed baffled by Pezzulli’s claim that attorney-client privilege would exist in a meeting with other judges. When he asked for some citation to statutes or case law in support of the motion to quash the subpoena, Pezzulli was stumped for an answer. Harry White opposed the motion to quash and stated, “We believe there is a personal relationship between Wooten and Willis.” Judge Russell took the motion to quash under review and made no ruling on it.
No speedy trial for Judge Suzanne Wooten means no speedy relief from the burden this case has created for the taxpayers. On October 18, 2010, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended Wooten with pay and she has collected $12,000 dollars a month for the past ten months for staying home.
If denied the opportunity to clear her name prior to March 2012, it is unlikely any Collin County Republican would challenge Judge Wooten in a primary race for fear of looking like a vulture. However, she would likely draw a Democratic challenger on the chance she might be convicted and removed from the bench between the primary and general election resulting in the Democratic candidate being elected by default in November 2012.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Collin County Observer
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