Criminal Justice

Top criminal court in Texas exonerates former judge convicted in 2011 bribery case

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Former Texas Judge Suzanne Wooten no longer has a criminal record, despite her 2011 conviction on bribery charges.

Ruling on a writ of innocence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the top criminal court in Texas, ruled on Friday that Wooten’s conviction should be vacated and a judgment of acquittal rendered, the Dallas Observer reports. On Wednesday, Judge Andrea Thompson formally acquitted Wooten, according to the Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

Prosecutors had initially alleged that a Highland Park couple had paid $150,000 to Wooten’s campaign manager in exchange for favorable rulings from Wooten in a custody case. The campaign manager had said the payments were for unrelated consulting work. The couple and Wooten were convicted, and Wooten agreed not to appeal to avoid jail time. The campaign manager pleaded guilty and received probation.

“In the years that followed the convictions,” the Dallas Observer reports, “questions emerged about the process that led to them.” As many as six grand juries heard evidence before indicting the four, “and no clear link was ever established between the cash and Wooten’s campaign.”

Though the campaign manager had used money from his accounts to pay for some campaign expenses, he was paid back with legitimate contributions, the Observer says. And Wooten recused herself from the couple’s custody case because of a connection to another lawyer.

Wooten’s lawyer sought to have her declared innocent after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2015 that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions of the couple.

Wooten told the courtroom that “this is not over,” according to the Morning News. She said her election win over an established judge had “upset the wrong people apparently,” and “this was fabricated from the beginning.”

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