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Texas Judge Sharon Keller Fights Reprimand Over Death Row Appeal

5 years ago
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The story of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller, who blew off a legitimate appeal from a condemned man hours before he was executed, has long been a shocking and dismal one. Now it has become ironic, too, for the famously coldhearted judge has become precisely what coldhearted judges all over the country secretly detest: She's become a nuisance appellant, a losing litigant who hasn't yet learned that sometimes it's just better to quit while you are behind.

On Friday, for example, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct weakly reprimanded Keller for her truly shameful role in the final (attempted) appeal of Michael Richard. The commission could have sought her ouster but settled for giving her what it called a "public warning." But instead of accepting that gentle slap on the wrist, instead of being grateful for still having a taxpayer-financed job, Keller and her attorney immediately vowed to appeal the commission's conclusions. Ironic, no, that a judge who thought so little of Richard's appeal would think so much of her own?

Judge Sharon KellerThe ugly story is familiar to those of you who have been reading along with me through the years. Richard was scheduled to die in Texas by lethal injection on Sept. 25, 2007, but on the morning of his execution the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case involving lethal injection procedures. A stay of execution for Richard should have been almost ministerial in nature -- and, indeed, scheduled executions via lethal injection were halted all over the country pending the court's resolution of the case we now know as Baze v. Rees. Except in Judge Keller's court.

Keller didn't assist Richard's lawyers in getting that appeal filed. In fact, she actively worked against those lawyers to ensure that their appeal would not be filed in time. She didn't tell her fellow judges to expect a Richards filing -- they didn't find out until the next morning that Keller had blocked the attempt to file. Knowing that she alone had determined Richard's fate that day, Keller went home to meet a repairman at her house. Richard was executed that night, his final appeal never heard by the courts. This from a jurist who was known before the incident as "Killer" Keller for her views on the death penalty.

What Keller did (and did not do) that day, the commission declared on Friday, "constitutes willful or persistent conduct" that "is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as a judge" and "casts public discredit on the judiciary and the administration of justice" in Texas. And certainly it is this language -- and not the "public warning," whatever that means -- that has Keller fired up. After getting the verdict, the judge and her attorney turned upon the commission in a decidedly unjudicious manner. "It is perhaps not surprising that the same commission that made the charges finds them now to be valid despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary," Keller's lawyer said. "Judge Keller looks forward to challenging this decision."

And so the judge who failed miserably at dispensing justice to Michael Richard will now suck up public time, money and effort trying to capture it for herself. This at a time of deep budget cuts and shortfalls within the criminal justice system in Texas that are forcing officials there to do the unthinkable: close prisons. If Keller cared about these things more than she does about salvaging her reputation -- good luck with that -- this litigation would be at an end. Then again, if Keller possessed the sort of integrity and sacrifice the public demands and deserves from its jurists, she would have never left court early that day in September 2007 to meet the repairman at her home.

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Judge Keller, in my opinion, did her job. The defendant had many years to bring to the court his arguments as to why he wanted a new trial. Too bad. Time was up. I support Judge Keller for having a backbone. How many times do we have to convict someone before we stop the "BS" and just do it. If I were in Judge Keller's position, I would file my appeal all the way to, " You know where". Stay the course Judge.

August 26 2010 at 9:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Judge Kellers appeal should be blocked, considering the verdict didn't hurt her in any way.(Except maybe in her own mind).
If the appeal is allowed it should be on her paying all the court fees- NOT THE TAXPAYERS!

July 25 2010 at 2:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Get the facts straight. This column is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. The convict's attorneys called and said they wanted to file an appeal. She told them the office closes at 5:00 pm. They did not request her to stay late. They had years to file their appeals. But then they didn't get it done. Its not her fault if his attorneys couldn't do their job.

July 23 2010 at 10:29 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

The same ones on this page saying this guy got what he deserved are the same ones who would be screaming bloody murder if this had happened to someone that you loved. Please understand that one of the fabrics of this country is the judiciary system. This judge forgot that justice was supposed to be blind and allowed her actions to be dictated by her personal ideology in the most gross way. Big no no. She should have been removed from the bench.

July 20 2010 at 10:40 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I don't think that Mr. Cohen is so concerned with Michael Richard as he is with Judge Keller's treatment of the legal system. The system is the system. When we treat the system like toilet paper we get a toilet paper system. At best, Keller got lazy, and a little lucky. At worst, she used the bench to sabotage what was legally a legitimate appeal, opinions aside. Judges are supposed to dot the i's, cross the t's, and do it right. To argue against that is to argue for anarchy.

July 19 2010 at 8:47 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

this is not about Richards who we all agreed is inhuman piece of trash BUT this is about a person who is support to be above his level. She needs to care more about her duty and responsiblity than her house repairman. This is about reaching up to be better than not to be on the level of the crimminal.

July 19 2010 at 8:28 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

She did her job well.. now get over it

July 19 2010 at 8:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Those that are putting this judge through this I don't agree with you,because your trying to act so fair,but your no because You don't even consider the victim that this killer killed.You reap what you sow he reaped what he sowed.

July 19 2010 at 7:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rverao's comment

Or maybe didnt kill it could have been the other guy innocent people are killed all the time and sent to prison for life just cause theres reasonable proof the system works backwards nowdays not solid proof just reasonable is needed in many cases

August 18 2010 at 10:42 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Mr. Cohen: You are against the death penalty; Judge Keller and I are not. But who is calling names? Who is writing all the purple prose? Aside from your own emotionality, what I do not see here is a justification for Judge Keller to have put off her personal appointment.

July 19 2010 at 7:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Remove her as a judge! Then let God decide is she was correct or not!

July 19 2010 at 5:17 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BOB's comment
dc walker

......the universe is 14-16 billion years old. do you really believe there is someone, "Up there" who runs things?? Just because the ancients didn't have any facts doesn't mean we have to follow like blind sheep. Google the Hubble telescope website and see "majesty".

July 20 2010 at 1:35 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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