Lawsuit filed against Midland County, former ADA Ralph Petty
A lawsuit in federal court has been filed against Midland County and former Midland County assistant district attorney Ralph Petty and former District Attorney Al Schorre for alleged “deprivation of rights under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
The suit by Erma Wilson is another legal issue following Petty’s employment as an assistant district attorney and as a law clerk for Midland County district judges. Wilson was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance (crack cocaine) in a trial more than two decades ago. She alleges that then-District Judge John Hyde denied her motions before, during and after her trial in 2001, including motions to suppress evidence. Working for Hyde, according to the lawsuit, was Petty, “advising them on legal matters and drafting the judges’ orders and opinions.”
The lawsuit references the Young’s case, stating “Mr. Young’s ‘federal and state due process rights were violated by … both the trial court’s use of prosecutor Ralph Petty’s services as a paid law clerk during Mr. Young’s trial … and the prosecutions’ withholding of that arrangement.”
“Like Mr. Young, Erma was a victim of Petty’s conflict of interest,” the lawsuit states. “If Erma had known about Petty’s involvement as a law clerk in her case, she would have requested Judge Hyde’s recusal and a new trial.”
The lawsuit also states that Midland County adopted and enforced an official employment policy or custom of permitting a prosecutor to work as a law clerk to judges in cases he was also prosecuting and in cases in which his employer was a party.
It mentioned “Petty’s arrangement” as a law clerk and ADA was “signed off on” by (former) County Treasurer Jo Ann Carr, County Attorney Russell Malm and Schorre.
“With Midland County’s policymakers’ knowledge and consent, Petty worked as a law clerk in Erma’s trial while also working for the District Attorney’s Office and, on information and belief, advising on the prosecution of her case,” the lawsuit states. “This dual role violated due process by depriving Erma of a criminal proceeding free from either actual or perceived bias.”
The lawsuit states that the defendants – the county, Petty and Schorre – caused harm to Wilson, including preventing her from pursuing a career in her chosen profession of nursing, inhibited her ability to obtain gainful employment and forced her to spend money on attorney fees and court costs related to her defense.
It also said her “quality of life” and “pursuit of happiness” were harmed, especially living with a felony record. It also harmed her access to justice, harmed her family life, harmed her faith in the criminal justice system and harmed her reputation.
The lawsuit also states Wilson seeks attorney fees, other legal costs and other relief “as the court may deem just and proper.”