Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Keller may face criminal prosecution over ethics disclosure violations

Having now had an opportunity to read the Ethics Commission's ruling where they fined Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals $100,000 for failing to disclose a vast web of financial entanglements. See the ruling (pdf). Several items in particular stood out.

First, part of the reason for the large fine is that Keller allegedly committed multiple misdemeanors - a baker's dozen, to be exact. And it might have been more except there's a two-year statute of limitations on what violations the TEC may consider when punishing criminal violations.

According to the ruling, "Ethics Commission rules prohibit the commission from considering an allegation barred from criminal prosecution by operation of the applicable statute of limitation. ... The criminal offense for a violation of section 572.023 of the Government Code is a Class B misdemeanor." In their "conclusions of law," the TEC found "credible evidence" Keller had violated of no fewer than 13 separate violations of that section of the statute - i.e., that she'd committed 13 misdemeanors!

There was a criminal complaint filed with the Travis County Attorney, but nobody's heard a peep out of David Escamilla's shop before now. Arguably, this ruling should kick-start the county attorney's investigation, since the clock is ticking and the statute of limitations could run out on many of the violations if he fails to act in a timely fashion.

I called Escamilla to ask about the status of the criminal complaint, which has now been sitting at his office for more than a year. Escamilla had not yet read the TEC opinion himself, declaring that he'd asked two of his prosecutors to review it and report back to him tomorrow with a recommendation how to proceed.

Escamilla and I spoke both on and off the record. On the record, he said he hadn't moved forward before now because he'd been been waiting for the Ethics Commission to complete its investigation. He said he would give "great weight" to the Ethics Commissions findings of fact and conclusions of law, which would have a "great influence" on whether his office elected to proceed with prosecution. Escamilla was particularly impressed that the TEC identified 13 different alleged Class B misdemeanor violations and said the remarkable volume of violations might also be a factor in whether to go forward.

IMO prosecutors should particularly investigate the circumstances surrounding the property purchased by her father and the boards of directors Judge Keller sat on but did not disclose. Why wouldn't her father tell her about those properties? And if Daddy listed her as a company director without her knowledge or participation in the company's affairs, doesn't that begin to look like Keller's father has been setting up dummy companies for some unknown purpose that he's been concealing from his family? It's a legitimate question if we are to believe the Presiding Judge's denials that she knew anything about the assets and corporate affiliations in her amended ethics disclosure.

My guess: By a long shot, the last shoe hasn't dropped in this saga.

In the "be careful what you ask for department," however, my guess is that if Sharon Keller resigned over these charges, Rick Perry would appoint Williamson County DA John Bradley (or his equivalent) to replace her, particularly in an election season when the Governor has spent the whole year tossing red meat to his base. The good news: Her term is up in 2012, at which time there will be a chance to rectify things at the ballot box.

RELATED (May 5): See the Dallas News editorial, "Keller's ethics fine is hefty but fair," declaring
the ethics commission report makes clear that Keller's failings go beyond the question of which family properties have her name on them. The state's highest criminal court judge did not disclose a litany of holdings, including shares of stock, nine sources of income, certificates of deposit, interest in a business entity and the much-discussed property, which was valued at $2.8 million in 2007. Keller also omitted multiple board or executive positions and honoraria that she accepted – errors that have nothing to with her octogenarian father.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also has an editorial on the subject, titled "Keller ignores due diligence." They note that Keller's situation "seems to have spiraled out of her control.
But things were within her control at the beginning of the muddle that her professional reputation has become. It was her questionable decisions that led to this point." They also note that "It's a breathtaking fine that takes a hard line on following the rules. But that's in line with Keller's own approach to enforcing the law." True that.


Anonymous said...

God forbid a district attorney investigate a alleged crime on his own.

Anonymous said...

She needs prosecuted but there probably is not one in Texas with big enough balls to take her on. That is one powerful b!%@h!

Anonymous said...

God forbid Perry from appointing Bradley to replace her. Bradley already runs the District Courts in Wilco bulldozing anyone who gets in his way. He has no problems sending innocent children (juveniles) to prison. His long sentencing is accomplished by withholding evidence from defense counsel, twisting the truth and stonewalling on appeals. He is the master in manipulating forensics. Bradley daily tramples the Constitutional and Civil Rights of the very people he is to serve.

Keller needs to go and no more appointments for Bradley.

ckikerintulia said...

I don't have any desire to see her go to prison, but I wouln't mind seeing her disrobed. (No double entendre intended.)

Charles Kuffner said...

"God forbid a district attorney investigate a alleged crime on his own."

Perhaps you are unaware of this, Anonymous, but in Travis County it is the County Attorney that investigates and prosecutes misdemeanor crimes, which is what Keller would be charged with.


Just FYI.

Anonymous said...

Just like the TYC higher-ups; she will beat it and dissapear untouched. Contacts in government corruption does have its benefits.

Scott Cobb said...

Keller should be suspended from office pending the outcome of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct proceedings against her. If she is suspended, the June 18 hearing and formal proceedings would continue on schedule but she would be suspended from performing her duties as judge.

Rule 15(b) of the Procedural Rules for Removal or Retirement of Judges on the website of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct allows the Commission to request that the Supreme Court of Texas suspend a judge if a sworn complaint is filed.

Keller could also be suspended under Rule 15(a) if Travis County Attorney David Escamilla files criminal charges against her.

Texas Maverick said...

And why is this less wrong than what Terri Hodges did?

R. Shackelford said...

Seems to me that the law ought to apply to everyone equally at the very least, and should be applied even more rigorously to those who make and enforce such laws. When it doesn't, then imo the system is no longer a just system, and therefore contemptible. I feel that it's no longer my civic duty to obey such a system, when those who enforce that system flout it so openly and with such a lack of regard for the very instrument from which they derive their power.

Adrrienne said...

What an amazing story. Does anyone know if there are any avenue for Keller to appeal, or is the fine final?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

She has said she will appeal but I haven't looked up the details of that process and don't know precisely to whom she would appeal, on what timeline, etc..

Scott Cobb said...

I expect the SCJC will move to suspend her if David Escamilla files charges. It depends how they interpret "official misconduct".

The annual personal financial disclosure and reporting requirements are part of most elected officials’ duties, which means a violation may very well be considered “official misconduct,” though some may argue it is not.

ckikerintulia said...

Amarillo Globe News editorially advises Ms. Keller to pay up and shut up on the money issue. AGN is not surprisingly silent on other issues of Ms. Keller's alleged malfeasances.