As we know, Sharon Keller, the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, has asked that the state pick up her legal fees in defense of the charges against her on grounds that paying for her own attorney would be financially ruinous for her. And if you were to ignore the vast financial resources that she's been failing to disclose as required by law, that might even be true.
The sworn statement Keller was required to file with the Texas Ethics Commission last April reflected income of more than $275,000, including her annual state salary of $152,500. It also showed that she owned at least 100 shares of airline stock, a home in Austin and one commercial property in Dallas. County tax records valued the properties at about $1 million.
Keller's statement did not list her ownership interest in seven other residential and commercial properties in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Those properties are valued collectively by county appraisal districts at about $1.9 million.
Among Keller's unlisted properties are two homes valued together at just over $1 million in the family's compound across from the Dallas Arboretum. Keller is listed as sole owner under Sharon Batjer, her married name. She was divorced in 1982.
The other omissions include two Keller-owned properties valued at about $823,000: a vacant commercial site in Euless and an occupied commercial property next to Keller's Drive-In on East Northwest Highway, a landmark hamburger restaurant operated since 1965 by the judge's father, Jack. Also not disclosed are three properties valued at $114,000 and owned by Keller's 27-year-old son, a law student whom she claims as a dependent.
Keller's assets, including those she is not required to disclose to the state, could reveal that she is even wealthier.
Her 2008 statement to the ethics commission did not list about $3 million in real estate held by three family corporations or trusts, in which she has an interest. State law requires that officeholders list any corporations in which they are an officer or director. Keller did not do so for the three family-run entities, although she did acknowledge earning income of at least $25,000 from a trust in her father's name.
State law does not require asset disclosure if the officeholder does not have at least a 50 percent interest. Records do not show Keller's percentage holdings, and neither she nor her lawyer would comment on any details of The News' findings. Keller also did not list two properties worth about $796,000, owned by a family corporation in which her dependent son is an officer, as she is required by law to do.
Officeholders are also required to list outstanding debt over $1,000; Keller listed none on her latest report to the ethics commission.
Last year, Keller bought a residential property in Hunt County, valued on tax rolls at $251,000. She will not have to report that property until this year's filing.