During the closed-door session in which the 13-member commission debated what sanction it should give Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, one non-lawyer member of the commission opined that Keller should be commended for saving the state money by blocking the appeal.However, he wrote:
A majority of the panel agreed that Keller needed to be sanctioned for ignoring the procedures she admitted to knowing. Because of the poor performance of Richard’s lawyers and evidence of other problems at the Court of Criminal Appeals itself, none of the commissioners argued to remove Keller from office.
Some did urge a “public reprimand,” a step up from the “warning.” But a reprimand results in a judge being ineligible to sit as a visiting judge after retiring from the bench.
One member asked why they would prohibit Keller from sitting later if they did not did not think she needed to be removed now. That argument carried the day for the lower sanction.
Keller’s attorney said she plans to appeal the “warning.” This would require an entirely new trial before three judges chosen by lot from the state’s mid-level courts of appeal. Their decision would be final.
It's a bit of a strange argument: Why would they prohibit Keller from sitting later if they did not think she needed to be removed now? Another question might be, "Why would the mid-range verdict of a 'public reprimand' exist if that's the commission's basic calculus? By that logic, judges don't deserve a public reprimand until they behave so badly they warrant removal, at which point presumably the commission would instead vote to remove them. What a Catch-22! If, as I suspect, the same commissioners have voted to give other judges public reprimands, that seems a bit disingenuous.
I can actually see a strong argument for a public reprimand as the right outcome - not removing her now but preventing Keller from sitting as a visiting judge later. One might think it proper to allow voters to pass judgment on Keller instead of having her administratively removed, but down the line you wouldn't want someone who would knowingly violate court rules to sit as a visiting judge. (As an aside, I don't understand how the "warning" option jibes with earlier reports that the only options available were removal, censure, or exoneration.)
OTOH, there's little practical difference in the result, since Keller has never argued a front-line court case nor presided over a trial, and I doubt she'll start once she leaves office. Plus she's appealing even this wrist slap. On that score, the Dallas News editorialized yesterday that "it would do everyone else a favor if Keller backed out of defensive mode and took her medicine," and it's hard to disagree with that sentiment.
MORE (7/22): See this item from Andrew Cohen at Politics Daily, coverage from the Austin Chronicle, and an editorial from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, which opened with this saucy assessment:
An Associated Press article last week described Justice Sharon Keller as “the top criminal judge in Texas.” That’s a technically correct paraphrase for presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. It wasn’t meant as a value judgment, thank goodness.The Caller-Times concluded that:
Keller therefore remains for now “the top criminal judge in Texas.” Presumably that will be the case until her term expires in 2012. She has not indicated whether she will seek re-election. If she does, voters will be better acquainted with her and might make a more informed decision than last time. Keller’s case is a cautionary tale for voters, for sure – and a strong argument for an appointed judiciary. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.