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“Warning” versus “reprimand”

Rick Casey answers a question that has been bugging me about the State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruling that issued a “public warning” to Sharon Keller.

A majority of the panel agreed that Keller needed to be sanctioned for ignoring the procedures she admitted to knowing. Because of the poor performance of Richard’s lawyers and evidence of other problems at the Court of Criminal Appeals itself, none of the commissioners argued to remove Keller from office.

Some did urge a “public reprimand,” a step up from the “warning.” But a reprimand results in a judge being ineligible to sit as a visiting judge after retiring from the bench.

One member asked why they would prohibit Keller from sitting later if they did not did not think she needed to be removed now. That argument carried the day for the lower sanction.

So a reprimand would have had a real-life effect on Keller, while a warning is, well, nothing more than the finger wag in her direction I thought it was. Grits points out the obvious flaw in the Commission’s reasoning.

It’s a bit of a strange argument: Why would they prohibit Keller from sitting later if they did not think she needed to be removed now? Another question might be, “Why would the mid-range verdict of a ‘public reprimand’ exist if that’s the commission’s basic calculus?” By that logic, judges don’t deserve a public reprimand until they behave so badly they warrant removal, at which point presumably the commission would instead vote to remove them. What a Catch-22! If, as I suspect, the same commissioners have voted to give other judges public reprimands, that seems a bit disingenuous.

I can actually see a strong argument for a public reprimand as the right outcome – not removing her now but preventing Keller from sitting as a visiting judge later. One might think it proper to allow voters to pass judgment on Keller instead of having her administratively removed, but down the line you wouldn’t want someone who would knowingly violate court rules to sit as a visiting judge.

He also notes that the “warning” option seems to have come out of nowhere, as it wasn’t given by the Commission as a possible outcome when they heard the two sides’ appeals. Has any other judge received a “warning” before? I can’t help but think that the Commission was just simply reluctant to actually punish Keller. Remember, she’s said if she had to do it all over again, she wouldn’t do anything differently. Given that so far all this has cost her is money, of which she has plenty, why would she see any need to change? No consequences means no need for introspection.

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