Interesting Bribe case out of Dallas Court of Appeals

On March 25, 2015, the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas reversed various bribery-related convictions of David Cary. Mr. Cary had been accused of secretly funneling money to attorney Suzanne Wooten, who was running for the 380th District Court bench in Collin County, which is just north of Dallas.

According to the opinion of the Fifth Court of Appeals:

“Boiled down, the State’s theory in this case was that the Carys [referring to David Cary and his wife, Stacy Stine Cary, who was also charged and convicted of bribery] secretly funded Wooten’s campaign for elective office. And the only evidence of a benefit to Wooten in this case was that Stacy Cary gave money to Spencer [the judicial candidate’s campaign manager] and Spencer used it in connection with Wooten’s campaign.”

The evidence showed that Mr. Cary and his wife funneled a lot of money – around $150,000 — to the Wooten campaign by making numerous large payments to the campaign manager, who then used the money to pay for campaign stuff, e.g., signs, a consultant fee, etc.

Although the appellate court conceded that Mr. Cary may have been doing something illegal, the bottom line is that the way this particular case was plead and argued to the jury, the State had failed to prove that Mr. Cary had bribed anyone. The reasoning hinges on the exception in section 36.02 of theTexas bribery statue for political contributions:

“It is an exception to the application of Subdivisions (1), (2), and (3) of Subsection (a) that the benefit is a political contribution as defined by Title 15, Election Code, or an expenditure made and reported in accordance with Chapter 305, Government Code.”

Here is the definition of “contribution” in Title 15 of the Texas Election Code:

“‘Contribution’ means a direct or indirect transfer of money, goods, services, or any other thing of value and includes an agreement made or other obligation incurred, whether legally enforceable or not, to make a transfer. The term includes a loan or extension of credit, other than those expressly excluded by this subdivision, and a guarantee of a loan or extension of credit, including a loan described by this subdivision.”

Because a bribe is subject to the “political contribution exception,” and because political contributions include indirect transfers of money, goods, etc., all of the evidence put on by the State showing that money was secretly given to the political campaign manager and then spent on the political campaign failed to establish that any crime had been committed.

What makes the case interesting is the work of John Helms, who handled the appeals of both Ms. Cary and Mr. Cary. You can see the arguments evolve in the second appeal, and you can see in the appellate court’s opinion how they specifically responded to the new, refined arguments in Mr. Cary’s case. For appellate attorneys in makes for a great read.