Sharon Keller, the state's top criminal court judge, has reached a deal to substantially reduce a record $100,000 fine levied by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to fully disclose millions of dollars of real estate and income in financial statements.The decision was announced on Friday afternoon, a tried and true tactic to minimize press coverage of controversial government decisions. The Chronicle gave this detail about the violations for which the penalties were ratcheted down:
Under the settlement, released Friday, Keller will pay $25,000 to resolve repeated violations of the section of state law that governs personal financial disclosures for elected officials.
In a move that surprised even state watchdog groups, the commission in April 2010 slapped Keller with a $100,000 fine - the largest-ever civil penalty against a politician - after finding that she did not report a total of at least $3.8 million in earnings and property on two annual financial statements.
Keller fixed the omissions on the financial statements, but appealed the commission's fine to a Travis County state District Court, where it languished for three years.
On Thursday, the Ethics Commission approved the settlement with a 7-0 vote, but referred questions to the attorney general's office, which represents state agencies in legal matters. The attorney general's office declined comment.
According to the Commission's complaint, Keller in 2006 failed to report between 100 and 499 shares of stock, $61,500 in income, interest in eight properties valued that year at $2.4 million and two expenses totaling $3,760 that were accepted under the honorarium exception.The income Keller failed to report in 2007 alone is nearly as much as she made for her job as a judge, which makes it difficult to accept the claim that the omissions were an oversight. If asked your income on a sworn document, would you be likely to forget nine sources of income totaling in the six figures? In any event, Austin District Judge Orlinda Naranjo must approve the settlement agreement before it is finalized.
The commission said that in 2007 Keller failed to report the stock, nine sources of income totaling $121,500 and two honoraria valued at $6,010. She also failed to report the eight properties again, then valued at $2.8 million.
Keller has said the omissions were unintentional, but admitted in the settlement that they "constituted violations of her reporting obligations" as required by state law, according to the settlement. She will have to pay the $25,000 within 30 days after the deal is finalized.