A year after a former judge walked out of the Collin County courthouse no longer a convicted felon, she's suing the people she says orchestrated her wrongful conviction on bribery charges.
Suzanne Wooten's lawsuit names then-District Attorney, John Roach Sr.; Chris Milner, one of his top assistants; then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the governor of Texas, and then-assistant attorney general Harry White.
As a result of the conviction, the lawsuit says, she was forced to step down from the bench, her law license was suspended, and her reputation and career were devastated.
"This lawsuit will expose the truth: that both the Collin County District Attorney and the Attorney General, using their hand-picked assistants, misused their authority for a political and personal vendetta against Judge Wooten," her attorney, Scott Palmer said. "This abuse of power caused a manifest miscarriage of justice that demands that their actions be exposed and fully addressed so this can never happen again."
Wooten’s troubles began shortly after she defeated incumbent district Judge Charles Sandoval in 2008. She was the first person to defeat a sitting district judge in Collin County.
Her victory shocked the political establishment and the win did not go over well with the courthouse powers that be including then-District Attorney John Roach Sr.
Roach was known at the courthouse for investigating his perceived political opponents.
The lawsuit alleges that one day after her primary win, Sandoval went to Roach and told him that he felt there was no way she could have won without cheating. Roach’s office soon launched an investigation and began grand jury hearings. The investigation was later taken over by the Attorney General's Office.
Five grand juries would hear evidence in the case. The sixth grand jury indicted Wooten, her campaign manager, a man named Dave Cary, and his wife.
Prosecutors claimed the Carys had funneled $150,000 to Wooten's campaign consultant in exchange for favorable rulings in a contentious child custody case.
There were records showing she paid her campaign consultant for the work done on her campaign. There were no records indicating any money from the Carys ever went to her.
Wooten says she did not know the Carys and had never even met the couple.
What's more, Wooten made no rulings in the case. She'd recused herself from the case within months of taking the bench.
Wooten told WFAA she was stunned on that day in 2011 when the jury convicted her of nine felony counts.
"I just stood there. I cannot believe this happening," Wooten said. "I was convicted of making favorable rulings. And everyone stipulated that I had never made favorable rulings on that case because I didn't preside on that case."
After the jury came back with a guilty verdict, prosecutors gave her 10 minutes on whether to take 10 years of probation and forgo her right of appeal or let the jury decide her punishment. She was facing up to 20 years in prison.
"If I didn't have my husband and my children, I'd have said, 'Yeah, bring it. I'll go sit in prison. I'd be fine,'" she says. "But my family would not be."
Last year, the Court of Criminal Appeals paved the way for Wooten's exoneration when they threw out the Carys' convictions. Her attorney soon filed a writ of innocence with the appeals court.
The lawsuit also alleges a pattern of similar pattern of political prosecution on the part of a specialized unit that existed during Roach’s tenure.
When Greg Willis became district attorney in 2011, he eliminated the unit. He also instituted a policy that his office would no longer launch investigations. Instead, his office only pursues cases brought to them by a law enforcement agency.
"You should not be entitled to do this, to abuse your position of power, to manipulate the system, and honestly, not to just go after people because you don't like them, or they're not the people you wanted," Wooten said last year.
Wooten has since gotten her law license back. Her judicial portrait has been gone back up on the wall at the courthouse.