April 28, 2009
The Keller impeachment resolution

Rep. Lon Burnam's resolution to impeach Judge Sharon Keller was scheduled to get a hearing Monday. Burnam vowed that it would come to a vote on the House floor.

If that resolution does not move in committee, Burnam said he will seek a majority vote for impeachment on the House floor. But he said he will make an impeachment motion even if he is not sure of winning.

"I'd rather lose the vote than not have the vote," Burnam declared.

Burnam said a House vote on impeachment would immediately remove Keller from the bench while she awaited a trial in the state Senate.

He said the judicial conduct commission could take another 18 months to act. Even if the commission finds against Keller, Burnam said, the punishment could range from a slap on the wrist to removal from office.

Burnam said immediate action is needed when life and death matters are at stake in the judicial system.

The hearing started at 10 PM and ran until 12:30, so there isn't much news coverage about what happened in the hearing. The Star Telegram has some information.

[Rep. Burnam] presented witnesses to reinforce his claim that Judge Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, committed "a gross neglect of duty and willing disregard for human life" by refusing the keep the court's office open after hours to accept a Death Row appeal. The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed hours later.

"What she did was so outrageous," retired state appeals court Justice Michol O'Connor of Houston said as she waited to testify on behalf of Burnam's motion.


Burnam told reporters that he plans to force a vote by the full 150-member House even if the committee rejects his motion. He says he has the right to do so under House rules. "I can bring it up at any time," Burnam said.

Austin attorney Charles Herring Jr., an expert on legal ethics issues who has advised the Texas Supreme Court, said in written testimony that Keller's behavior "clearly meets the constitutional standards for impeachment."

"I submit that if that type of egregious judicial misconduct, with the most serious possible consequences imaginable, does not require removal from office, nothing does," Herring wrote.


If the Legislature gives the go-ahead for impeachment, the process would likely not start until after the session ends June 1. House members would return to Austin to consider articles of impeachment. If adopted, the Senate would then convene for a trial. No action by the governor would be necessary, Burnam said.

Grits, from whom I got that link, also has a report:

[Judge O'Connor declared] that three things justified her impeachment - her actions in the Michael Richard cases, her stated partiality toward the prosecution, and her incompetence as a judge. In the Richard case, she said, the court wasn't closed "in any real sense" at 5 p.m., she said, since the assigned duty judge was waiting there to hear the appeal. She said she'd never heard of a capital case when a request for a 20-minute delay was denied by an appellate court.

Judge O'Connor particularly emphasized Judge Keller's partiality toward the prosecution, declaring that alone should be enough to justify her removal. This to me is an even stronger argument for her ouster than the Michael Richard debacle. Imagine a family court judge who declared themselves "pro-husband"!

Judge O'Connor went through all the various reasons judges had been removed from office in Texas, arguing that Judge Keller's behavior was worse than any of them. She said she doesn't know anyone who believes Keller should stay in office.

The hearing lasted nearly three hours with most of the testimony favoring impeachment.

Mark Bennett was there for the hearing, though his report is from before it started. The DMN, Statesman, and Daily Texan have more, and you can watch the archived video of the hearing if you've got a few hours to kill; Burnam's stuff starts about three hours in. I've put a call into Rep. Burnam's office and am awaiting a statement from them about the hearing. I'll post it when I get it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 28, 2009 to Crime and Punishment
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