A special court of review Monday threw out an ethics rebuke given to Presiding Judge Sharon Keller for closing the Court of Criminal Appeals at 5 p.m. despite knowing that lawyers wanted to file an appeal for an inmate facing imminent execution in 2007.
Ruling not on the merits of the case but on the way it was handled, the three-judge panel also threw out the charges that accused Keller of violating her duty as a judge and prohibits the State Commission on Judicial Conduct from refiling the accusations.
The commission cannot appeal Monday’s ruling. ...
Bringing the high-profile case to a swift and stunning end, the review court said the commission committed fatal errors that doomed its punishment of Keller, issued in the form of a July “public warning” that chastised the state’s highest criminal judge for violating court procedures and bringing discredit to the judiciary.
In essence, commissioners chose the wrong punishment, opting for a warning when state law and the Texas Constitution limited their options to a “censure,” a more serious penalty, the court ruled.What a disappointing ruling for all involved: Keller gets the warning overturned on a technicality with the findings of fact on the merits untouched, while the State Commission on Judicial Conduct's improper leniency denuded the agency's authority in one of its highest profile cases ever. Nobody looks too good here. I don't begrudge the judges their ruling. As I'd written after the public arguments, "I certainly didn't leave the room feeling as though there was an obviously 'correct' decision I could easily identify." The SCJC really screwed the pooch on this one. Maybe one day we'll learn the backstory on why they chose not to follow the law after issuing such damning findings of fact.
The judges said they did not address the merits of the charges against Keller but based their decision solely on the errors committed by the commission.
MORE: From Jeff Gamso who provides a link to the final opinion and concludes, depressingly, "if we've learned anything by now, it's that the system protects its own."