June 03, 2005
Jefferson responds to Keel

Rick Casey's column today is devoted to State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who responds to the accusation of Rep. Terry Keel that Jefferson threatened to recruit an opponent against him when they spoke on the phone about the judicial pay raise bill.

Jefferson said he began by telling Keel it was a very important bill for the judiciary. Texas state judges haven't received a raise in six years, and, said Jefferson, "I think we're going to lose very talented judges."

"Representative Keel went on at length into the detail of his dealings with Senators Duncan and Ellis," Jefferson said.


"I said many other judges across the state will find it difficult to run in 2006 if this is not passed," Jefferson said. It was a point he had made at length in his State of the Judiciary address in February.

Jefferson continued: "Representative Keel said, 'I'm shocked! How dare a Supreme Court justice issue this kind of a threat. I'm appalled! Good night!' And he hung up. I was shocked. I couldn't understand why he reacted that way."

Jefferson said he slept on the matter and, when he woke up, thought he understood.

"He was on the House floor," Jefferson said. "There was a lot of tension. It was noisy. A lot of representatives were not happy with him. I think he understood me to say a lot of judges would make it difficult for him to run."

I have to say, it's pretty gracious of Justice Jefferson to offer such a nice, face-saving way of explaining what Rep. Keel said. Not that it's done any good, mind you.

Jefferson said Thursday that Keel misunderstood what he had said in a late-night, intense phone conversation during the final hours of the legislative session and that Keel hung up before he could correct that impression.

Keel disagreed with that version, saying, "It's not something I'd misunderstand."


After briefing Jefferson on the issues behind the stare-down, Keel said an agitated Jefferson threatened him, saying he and other judges "would see to it" that Keel and Ellis got opponents next year.

Keel said he was offended by Jefferson's remarks and told him so.

"I said, 'You are out of line. That is as inappropriate as me calling you about something pending before the court and making a threat,' " Keel said.

Keel and Jefferson agree that Keel then hung up on the chief justice. But Jefferson said Keel, under intense pressure, didn't hear him correctly.

"I said, 'It will be very difficult for me and many judges to run in 2006 if this bill does not pass,' " Jefferson said. "We couldn't clarify it because he hung up the phone."

The disagreement might have died with the hang-up, but Keel told the story to a Houston Chronicle columnist. Ellis told the Chronicle that he was unaware of any such comments by Jefferson.

On Thursday, Keel stuck to his story.

Jefferson was busy returning phone calls from reporters.

"I would never make that kind of threat," Jefferson said. "If any judge said what Rep. Keel thought was said, I would join him in condemning any kind of threat."

Jefferson said he had not tried to call Keel because "I didn't think he would take my call" after the way their conversation ended Sunday night.

I wasn't there, so I can't say who's right. I do know that Wallace Jefferson is very highly regarded, and based on comments I've seen elsewhere I doubt too many people who know him would think he'd say what Keel thought he said. One way or the other, the ball is in Terry Keel's court right now.

On a side note, Eye on Williamson County reminds me that there was another issue tied up in the pay raise bill, namely legislative pensions. That vote was taken in secret, and now it's just as well since none of them will get what they voted for anyway.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 03, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

Terry Keel keeps digging himself into a deeper and deeper whole. Let's hope Travis County Democrats can capitalize on it.

Posted by: Othniel on June 3, 2005 5:49 PM