Friday, February 27, 2009

Rumor: Some CCA judges want Keller to resign, worry about future investigations, elections

Vince over at Capitol Annex offered up this provocative bit of rumormongering the other day about divisions on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals over Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's looming removal hearing before the Judicial Conduct Commission:

A source closely connected with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals told Capitol Annex that several of the justices on the state’s highest criminal court want Presiding Justice Sharon Keller to resign in order to halt proceedings brought by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The proceedings would force the justices to testify on activities surrounding the execution of death row inmate Micahel Richard.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source told Capitol Annex that several justices are not eager to take part in a trial proceeding as part of the Commission on Judicial Conduct complaint against Keller because it would result in further revealing the content of private meetings and closed door activities–many of which were revealed in the publicly distributed notice of formal proceedings, much to the chagrin of judges and longtime court employees. Each of the court’s other eight justices would most likely be called as witnesses. Without question, Justice Cheryl Johnson would be a key witness for the TCJC.

According to the [source], the justices are fearful that a public trial for Keller could expose the court to more significant media scrutiny, could irreparably damage relations between the justices necessary for the court to function properly, and could hurt the justices politically during a time when Democrats have a better than average shot at capturing statewide offices. The source advised that at least one justice is fearful that some or all of the Court of Criminal Appeals Justices could be subject to similar judicial conduct complaints as the one now facing Keller simply because the other justices did nothing to stop Keller and did not more closely examine Keller’s actions, the source said. Another justice is reportedly worried that increased publicity could force U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an investigation into whether or not Michael Richard’s’ civil rights were violated–further exposing the court and the justices to a level of public examination they are unaccustomed to.

If accurate, and it sounds pretty reasonable to me, it appears the Court of Criminal Appeals these days has quite a bit of behind-the-scenes drama going on regarding Judge Keller's looming fate, perhaps relieved only slightly by the delay granted in her case until March 24.

Reading this account, Judge Keller's travails take on a bit of a soap-opera quality, whereas from the outside it all looks more like a circus.

RELATED: More incentive to resign instead of fight: Keller's legal team will reportedly cost several hundred thousand dollars.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is there any reason the investigation couldn't take place regardless of her retirement?

They need to address why the system failed, and adopt safeguards in general, regardless of which judge retires when.

Anonymous said...

Why do the judge's eyes look like that? Does she have an eye muscle problem or is it something else? I find it very disconcerting.

Anonymous said...

I hope it goes to a full hearing because I think the defense attorney, Mr. Dow, has a LOT of explaining to do as to why he waited until 4:45pm to ask for more time.

It was no suprise to anyone who follows death penalty litigation that Baze v Reez was the first case taken up in the new session. This had been expected for weeks.

Anyone who claims Mr. Dow had only a few hours notice is either ignorant of the facts or deliberately manipulating the truth... or maybe they believe Mr. Dow is guilty of gross negligence and malpractice because he was totally surprised.

Scott Cobb said...

The Commission on Judicial Conduct should suspend Keller from office using its Rule 15b pending the outcome of her public trial on charges that include "willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as presiding judge", "willful or persistent conduct that casts public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice" and "incompetence in the performance of duties of office".

Keller has lost the public's confidence. If she continues to exercise the powers of her office as judge while charged with incompetence, she will only bring greater discredit to her court.

The loss of public confidence in her has been expressed in the many editorials on Keller since the charges were made public, including the Houston Chronicle editorial that said, "A faulty ethical compass makes Judge Sharon Keller unfit for the bench."

Keller would also be automatically suspended if the Texas House votes to impeach her.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dow, has a LOT of explaining to do as to why he waited until 4:45pm to ask for more time.

Uhhh.... because that's when his computer malfunctioned?

Anonymous said...

I hope Keller combs her hair before her hearing.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that there's only been one prosecutor chime in to defend their little CCA chief prosecutor. . .

TxBluesMan said...

Scott,

How is the House going to impeach her? The Texas Constitution lists what officials may be tried by the Senate on impeachment by the House, and a Justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals isn't one of them...

Personally, I think she should resign just so the Gov can appoint a pro-police ultra-rightwing conservative Republican to the seat...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's not the House at this point, Bluesy, it's the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Scott Cobb said...

The Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is a state officer, so she can be impeached, as can any state officer.


THE TEXAS CONSTITUTION

ARTICLE 15. IMPEACHMENT

Sec. 7. REMOVAL OF OFFICERS WHEN MODE NOT PROVIDED IN CONSTITUTION. The Legislature shall provide by law for the trial and removal from office of all officers of this State, the modes for which have not been provided in this Constitution.


GOVERNMENT CODE

TITLE 6. PUBLIC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES

SUBTITLE B. STATE OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES

CHAPTER 665. IMPEACHMENT AND REMOVAL

Sec. 665.002. INDIVIDUALS WHO MAY BE IMPEACHED. An individual may be removed from an office or a position by impeachment in the manner provided by the constitution and this chapter if the individual is:
(1) a state officer;
(2) a head of a state department or state institution; or
(3) a member, regent, trustee, or commissioner having control or management of a state institution or enterprise.


Who is a "state officer"?

The term “state officer” is generally used in Texas statutes and constitutional provisions to describe those officers whose jurisdiction is coextensive with the boundaries of the state or officers who immediately belong to one of the three branches of state government.

Anonymous said...

Lucy you gots some splaining to doooooo....

Man oh Man, I surely hope this gets the full investigation it deserves. The Criminal Justice system is well, just plain criminal...

DeftyJames said...

Anon @12:25pm.

You miss the point. The real issue here is not her decision to close the clerk's office. That's a red herring. Her real violation is that she had an obligation to tell the judge presiding over the execution what she was doing. She had no right to inject herself into the execution process without informing the presiding judge what was happening. That is the clear ethical violation.

While I don't follow Texas death penalty circles, I think the fact is obvious that the presiding judge would have accepted the brief and issued a stay. As a non-Texan with no ax to grind, "Willful misconduct" is exactly the right term. She made a decision to withhold legally pertinent information from the presiding judge. That's wrong.

TxBluesMan said...

Scott C,

She's not going to be impeached.

Like Grits said, it's at the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

What I have pointed out in another thread is that the Leg screwed up when they amended the Constitution and created the CCA. Would it stop an impeachment - who knows... But it is a loophole, using the argument that all other judicial officers have been clearly identified...

Besides, the bill of impeachment has about as much change of passing the House as one of Rep Dutton's usual bills on the death penalty.