Keller Keeps Foot in Courtroom Door

The judge continues to fight 'warning' issued by SCJC

Sharon Keller
Sharon Keller (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Sharon Keller, the controversial presiding judge on the state's Court of Criminal Appeals, was back in court on Monday, arguing via her attorney (the affable Chip Babcock) that a three-judge panel should dismiss a public warning handed to her in July by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The warning came in connection with Keller's interference in a last-hour death case appeal in 2007, which ended in inmate Michael Richard's execution without his appeal having been heard. Infamously, when asked about keeping the court open late to accept the Richard appeal, Keller replied that the court closed at 5pm. Notably, the commission found that Keller violated the court's execution-day procedures by handling the inquiry herself instead of referring all communications about the case to the assigned duty judge.

Prior to this week, the Texas Supreme Court had already rejected Keller's bid to void the SCJC's discipline; in response Babcock filed paperwork to begin a separate legal review in front of a three-judge panel (selected by the Texas Supreme Court), which would decide whether the public warning was justified. First up for the panel, the subject of Monday's arguments, was deciding whether to dismiss the charge altogether. According to Babcock, the SCJC overstepped its authority in issuing the warning, an option that was not available to the commission. Instead, Babcock argued, the SCJC was confined to issuing a censure, a recommendation to remove her from office, or a dismissal. Not so, says Mike McKetta, who represents the SCJC: There is nothing that prevents the commissioners from issuing a lesser form of punishment, which the public warning is. If the panel upholds the dismissal, the review process will continue during a three-day hearing beginning in late November. Ironically, we can't help but think that if Keller were facing herself in her own courtroom, she certainly would have shut the door on herself by now.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sharon Keller, State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Mike McKetta, Chip Babcock, Michael Richard, Texas Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals

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