Callous Keller Strikes Again

Judge lies in zeal to send convict to the death chamber.

If you happened to read the Oct. 4 San Antonio Express-News article on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to ignore the last-minute death row appeal of Michael Richard (clearing the way for his execution on Sept. 25), then you likely know now what a cold, cold, cold and dark heart has CCA presiding Judge Sharon Keller. Sure, Keller has long been considered a cold fish by many – lawyers, journalists, and those with even the barest hint of a pulse, among others – but her latest show of distaste for, really, her job, is mind-blowing. According to the E-N, Keller basically, well, lied, by saying that the reason the court failed to hear Richard’s appeal was that it wasn’t at the court by 5pm, the deadline she arbitrarily set without consulting any of the court’s other judges, several of whom actually stayed late at work that evening in anticipation of a late-filed appeal.

According to David Dow, of the Texas Innocence Network at the Univ. of Houston Law Center and one of Richard’s lawyers, the appeal – asking for a stay of execution for Richard, pending the outcome of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the tri-chemical lethal injection execution method currently used by 37 states – was held up by computer problems. Dow said he called the CCA to advise the clerk of the situation; Dow told the E-N he would’ve needed just 20 additional minutes to get the appeal filed. Notably, and incredibly, the CCA, which has statewide jurisdiction, doesn’t accept e-filing – even in life-and-death cases that often turn on last-minute filings. Amazingly, Keller told the daily that Dow didn’t give any reason for the delay – meaning either Keller is full of it and has tossed the court clerk under the bus, and/or the court has a serious internal communication problem.

According to the paper, Keller “voiced no second thoughts” on the manner in which she handled the appeal: “You’re asking me whether something different would have happened if we had stayed open…and I think the question ought to be why didn’t they file something on time?” she told the paper. Wow.

Keller’s stunning lack of intellectual honesty and scathing lack of compassion has enraged local attorneys who suggest her callousness is tantamount to a breach of judicial ethics. “Can you find a harder heart than that?” asks Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who said he is considering filing a formal complaint against Keller with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Asked about Keller’s conduct, Seana Willing, Commission executive director, told the E-N that she isn’t “aware” of anything in the Code of Judicial Conduct that would address Keller’s decision to close for business while the Richard appeal was pending. However, on their face, Keller’s comments to the daily appear to violate the Code’s First Cannon, providing that a judge “should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and should personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary is preserved.”

“This is probably the worst incident of judicial misuse of power that I have seen, especially since this involves issues of life and death,” says Harrington. “How callous can you be?”

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Courts, Sharon Keller, death penalty, Court of Criminal Appeals

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