May 01, 2009
Followup on the Keller impeachment resolution

I had a brief conversation with Rep. Lon Burnam about HR480, the House resolution to impeach Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, which had a hearing on Monday. He's working on getting enough support in the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence to get it voted out of committee and brought to the floor of the House for a vote; he's also talking to Members and answering their questions about this arcane and seldom-used procedure, and securing their support for an eventual vote. If the Jurisprudence committee does not vote HR480 out, Burnam can and will bring it to the floor on a personal privilege motion. So one way or another we will see a House vote on this.

Because of the nature of this kind of resolution, the only deadline Burnam faces is sine die on June 1. Only the House must take action for impeachment to move forward. What HR480 does is authorize the creation of a select committee on impeachment, which would be chosen by Speaker Straus and which would meet in the summer to investigate the charges and potentially refer articles of impeachment back to the full House for another vote. The House would then convene for that vote, and if they accept the articles of impeachment, the matter then passes to the Senate for a trial. A two-thirds vote in the Senate would be required for a conviction, with the penalties including removal from the bench and a ban on holding public office in the future.

Rep. Burnam's office sent me the 1975 Select Committee on Impeachment report (PDF), which was the last time a resolution was brought forth to impeach an officeholder, in that case a district judge in Duval County, and which makes for some interesting reading. The Committee, whose members included former Speaker Pete Laney, Sarah Weddington, and still serving Rep. Senfronia Thompson, likened the role of the House to that of a grand jury, offering no judgment on the guilt or innocence of the accused or exploration of possible mitigating factors; that was left for the Senate, which was the trial court. They were there to determine if there was cause for further action.

One other point of interest is that the impeachment resolution of 1975 was brought to the floor by a privileged motion. Rep. Burnam is taking the longer way by having this go through the normal committee process, though as noted he can still go the privileged motion route if need be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 01, 2009 to Crime and Punishment
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