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Burnam makes his case in the papers

State Rep. Lon Burnam writes an op-ed about his resolution to impeach Judge Sharon Keller.

Last week, a group of 24 national experts on judicial ethics issued a statement that Judge Keller has consistently demonstrated a lack of impartiality in cases involving criminal defendants like [Michael] Richard that violates their constitutional right to due process of law.

Article XV of the Texas Constitution clearly establishes that the Legislature has the power and responsibility to impeach. Section 4 of that article states that an impeached official is also subject to “indictment, trial and punishment according to law.” The impeachment of Judge Keller would neither pre-empt nor interfere with the commission’s investigation, and the commission’s investigation neither pre-empts nor interferes with impeachment.

Impeachment is a serious process reserved for only the most extreme derelictions of the duties of public office. The Texas Legislature has investigated only four state judges since the state’s Constitution was adopted in 1875; Judge Keller is the fifth. The taking of human life without due process is an extreme dereliction of duty. For the most trivial of reasons — a narrowly missed deadline — Judge Keller callously dismissed a clearly relevant appeal to spare a man’s life. That’s unacceptable.

Because death penalty cases exemplify the state at the zenith of its power, those who adjudicate these decisions must be held to the highest ethical standards. That’s what the impeachment of Judge Sharon Keller is about — ensuring that those who wield power over life and death have the integrity and sound judgment necessary to make such decisions.

We cannot allow a judge with a self-declared bias against capital defendants to continue deciding execution appeals. The best way to promptly get Judge Keller off the bench is through impeachment. That would avoid an additional 18-month deliberation by the commission during which Judge Keller would continue to make life-or-death decisions.

You know how I feel about this. Maybe, just maybe, if we send a message to Judge Keller that we won’t tolerate such indifference and contempt for constitutional rights, we won’t get any more judges like her. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

In the meantime, Judge Keller has filed an amended financial disclosure statement, which should put to rest once and for all the idea that she can’t afford to pay for her own damn attorney.

In a sworn statement filed in Austin earlier this week, Sharon Keller said she omitted more than two dozen properties, bank accounts, income sources and business directorships because her elderly father in Dallas had not told her about them.

“My father, Jack Keller, over a number of years has acquired and managed, without input from me, all of these properties,” Keller wrote in a filing with the Texas Ethics Commission meant to correct the annual report she made in April 2008.

The “Daddy didn’t tell me” defense. Well, at least she didn’t claim her dog had eaten her portfolio or something.

Her attorney expanded on her explanation Friday, saying that Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals since 2001, misinterpreted what she had to disclose and lost track of holdings she had disclosed in earlier financial reports.

“We’re not saying she is excused. She is at fault,” Ed Shack said. “But she wasn’t trying to deceive anybody.”

Fine. I believe her. Just a mistake, no intent to deceive, could happen to anyone with a rich yet conveniently forgetful daddy. These things happen. But let’s get real about what the issue really is.

Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin watchdog group that filed the complaints over Keller’s nondisclosures, suggested that the judge would not be swayed by others’ pleas of sloppiness.

“If a defense attorney in a death penalty case before Judge Keller’s court filed briefs as carelessly as Keller filed her financials, the client in question already would have been executed,” he said.

Damn straight. As far as karma is concerned, she deserves the same “justice” she’d routinely impose on any appellant that tried to pass this off. Because she has the good fortune to not be appearing before herself, she’ll do better than that. And that’s how it should be. For everyone, which is why she needs to be an ex-judge as soon as possible. It won’t solve everything – indeed, as Grits reminds us, the rot at the CCA goes far deeper than Sharon Keller – but nothing can get better as long as she’s wearing the robe.

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