Keller Safe From Impeachment...For Now

Lon Burnam pulls impeachment resolution, but says he'll file again in 2011 if necessary

Rep. Lon Burnam
Rep. Lon Burnam

With the hours winding down, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Ft. Worth, last evening pulled his resolution calling on the Legislature to begin impeachment proceedings against Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon "Killer" Keller.

In doing so, Burnam did not mince words: He said that Keller's failure to disclose her financial status while trying to get money from the state to defend herself against State Commission on Judicial Conduct charges sounded like "fraud." And that her "partiality" against criminal defendants -- a bias Keller has touted while campaigning -- likely disqualifies her from serving as a judge at all.

If Keller is still on the bench in 2011, Burnam said, he would again file the resolution, but he hopes that will not be necessary. Texas deserves a "justice system that can be respected," he said, "not one that can be diminished by the likes of her."

To recap: In September 2007 the state executed inmate Michael Richard after Keller blocked his final appeal with her now infamous declaration that the court closes at 5pm. Keller has been brought up on charges by the SCJC and is also being investigated by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to disclose millions in real estate holdings.

In her defense, Keller has argued that she told former CCA General Counsel Ed Marty that the clerk's office closes -- and always has -- at 5pm. She also says that Richard's attorneys should know that, and that they also should've known that they could seek to file their late appeal with one of the other judges on the court. Whether Keller's defense will fly will be determined when she goes before a hearing judge later this summer. The judge will decide what sort of punishment, if any, Keller's actions should net -- she could get a reprimand, for example, or even be tossed off the bench.

Meanwhile, however, Burnam sought to begin a concurrent process of impeachment in the Texas House. When the issue came up in committee in April two judges offered opposing views of whether impeachment would be proper and the resolution stalled there.

Still, Burnam made it clear then that he felt he didn't need the committee in order to bring it up -- as a matter of personal privilege, he has said, he could raise the issue whenever. On Sunday evening he did so, but not in order to call for a vote. Rather, Burnam took the mike in order to explain that he was pulling the resolution in order to allow the processes already initiated by the SCJC and TEC to proceed. Still, he said that the law allows any member to bring a resolution for impeachment at any time -- without the blessing of committee -- and he said he would do so again if Keller remains in office -- but said it was his "profound hope" that would not be necessary.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Legislature, 81st Legislature, Courts, Crime, Sharon Keller, Lon Burnam, SCJC, Michael Richard, death penalty

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