February 25, 2009
Keller gets an extension

News item:

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, now has until March 24 to answer charges that she violated her judicial duties by declining to accept an after-hours appeal from a death row inmate in 2007.

Keller requested, and received, an extension to a 15-day response deadline after the State Commission on Judicial Conduct filed the charges last Thursday.

The next step in the process -- appointing a sitting judge to serve as special master for Keller's trial -- cannot take place until the response is filed.

Evan Smith speaks for me:

Sharon Keller couldn't make her deadline to file a response to the State Judicial Commission's charges against her, but no one "closed" the "office" at "5 p.m." [...] It goes without saying that Michael Richard should have been so lucky.

Yeah. What he said.

Meanwhile, on a related note:

I doubt that many people will shed tears, but Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller may have to pay her own legal expenses to defend herself against charges she improperly shut the door on a condemned inmate's last-gasp appeal.

The judicial misconduct charges brought against Keller last week by the Commission on Judicial Conduct could result in her removal from office and, if she fights them, thousands of dollars in legal bills.

Officeholders often can use political funds to pay lawyers. But Keller, according to a filing last month with the Texas Ethics Commission, has no money in her political account. State law also prohibits Keller, who won't be up for re-election until 2012, from raising any political money before June 2011. And any donation of legal services could be construed as an illegal political contribution.

The judge's attorney, Chip Babcock, has asked the judicial conduct commission to pay her legal expenses.

If the answer is no, will Keller fight, or resign?

I say if the commission agrees to pay for Justice Keller's defense, it should be done in the same fashion as it would be for any other indigent defendant. If Attorney Babcock is willing to work at that fee schedule, then she can continue to employ him. If not, I'm sure there are plenty of other attorneys who could use the gig. Given the nature of the cases that often come before the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the consideration Justice Keller is known to give them, I think this is perfectly just.

Finally, Vince reports that Keller's fellow judges just want her to go away.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, [a source closely connected with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals] told Capitol Annex that several justices are not eager to take part in a trial proceeding as part of the Commission on Judicial Conduct complaint against Keller because it would result in further revealing the content of private meetings and closed door activities-many of which were revealed in the publicly distributed notice of formal proceedings, much to the chagrin of judges and longtime court employees. Each of the court's other eight justices would most likely be called as witnesses. Without question, Justice Cheryl Johnson would be a key witness for the TCJC.

According to the Court, the justices are fearful that a public trial for Keller could expose the court to more significant media scrutiny, could irreparably damage relations between the justices necessary for the court to function properly, and could hurt the justices politically during a time when Democrats have a better than average shot at capturing statewide offices. The source advised that at least one justice is fearful that some or all of the Court of Criminal Appeals Justices could be subject to similar judicial conduct complaints as the one now facing Keller simply because the other justices did nothing to stop Keller and did not more closely examine Keller's actions, the source said. Another justice is reportedly worried that increased publicity could force U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an investigation into whether or not Michael Richard's' civil rights were violated-further exposing the court and the justices to a level of public examination they are unaccustomed to.

Much as I want to see Keller go, I think I can wait until after the formal public hearing has been held. Let a little sunshine in, I say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 25, 2009 to Crime and Punishment
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