Pigs Are Flying: State Judicial Conduct Commission Taking Action Against Keller
The Judicial Conduct Commission takes action on Keller complaint
By Jordan Smith,
3:31PM, Thu. Feb. 19, 2009
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has charged Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller with a "willful and persistent failure" to follow the court's execution-day procedures that violates the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and "casts public discredit" on the judiciary.
The notice of charges comes just days after Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Ft. Worth, filed legislation asking the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Keller for her arbitrary decision to close the courthouse doors on condemned inmate Michael Richard on Sept. 25, 2007. As a result, Richard's appeal was never heard and he was executed.
The SCJC charge comes nearly a year-and-a-half after a group of more than two dozen prominent attorneys, led by Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington, filed a complaint with the Commission in October 2007 seeking Keller's ouster.
Keller will now have to answer to the charges in front of the full Commission, which has a host of punishment options available to it – including tossing her off the bench. If Keller loses her case, she can appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
The charging document provides additional detail about what happened the day Richard was executed. Among the more galling revelations is that Keller wasn't even at work – she was at home – when she was called by the court clerk and asked whether the court should remain open for a few more minutes, to give Richard's attorneys a chance to file his appeal. Also appalling is the fact that during a judicial conference the following day, when Judge Cathy Cochran wondered with several other judges about why Richard's attorneys had failed to file a final appeal, and questioned aloud what would happen if an appeal were late, Keller declined to explain what she'd done – which, of course, would explain why no appeal had been filed – and instead said only that the clerk's "office closes at 5pm; it's not a policy, it's a fact."