Saturday, October 20, 2007

130 Houston lawyers, 70%of Grits readers say: 'Sanction CCA Presiding Judge Sharon Keller'

So the results from Grits' weekly reader poll are in, with just over 300 Grits readers expressing an opinion on the subject, "Should Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller be sanctioned for refusing to accept a 20-minute late death penalty appeal without consulting her colleagues?"

Seventy percent of Grits readers agreed Keller should be sanctioned - 19 percent believed the sanctions should be something less than termination of her employment as Texas' highest criminal court judge, while a dominating 51% of Grits readers said Keller should be removed from office.

By contrast, 9% of readers thought Keller did the right thing, and 21% said she was "technically" right but "morally" wrong.

For myself, I waffled on this question. I was prepared to believe she was technically in the right, but now I don't think so. If it were only that she'd been a stickler for the timeline, you could make that case. But Keller wasn't the duty judge that night, so that means she usurped the authority of the person who should have made the decision - and that judge has publicly said she would have stayed the case.

So, believing she deserves sanction, that leaves determining the appropriate punishment. Again, part of me leans toward a temporary suspension or limited sanctions, just because the recommendation to remove a high court judge potentially threatens judicial independence and overturns the will of the voters. But if you believe Keller violated the judicial canons in a way that denied a condemned man access to the justice system hours before his death, the gravity of the issue demands her removal from office, in my opinion, not just her sanction.

These survey results come amid more rumblings from the grassroots urging the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, reports the Houston Chronicle ("More lawyers join criticism of Keller," Oct. 18):

Joining a swelling tide of criticism, 130 attorneys from Harris County have filed a judicial conduct complaint condemning the actions of Judge Sharon Keller, who presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The latest complaint against Keller, filed late Wednesday by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, also was signed by state District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston, retired state District Judge Jay W. Burnett and six regular citizens.

Keller has come under fire since she ordered the court clerk's office to close promptly at 5 p.m. on Sept. 25, denying death row inmate Michael Richard more time to file paperwork requesting a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. He was executed a little more than three hours later.

Another complaint was filed previously with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct by 20 Texas attorneys, including former State Bar President Broadus Spivey, Houston defense attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Stanley Schneider and University of Houston Law Center professor Michael Olivas.

That group is being represented by Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Congrats to Houston criminal defense lawyer-blogger Mark Bennett for spearheading this complaint and getting it done. See prior Grits discussions on this story for more detail - these topics have been hashed out pretty thoroughly in Grits' comments.

UPDATE: A former briefing attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals finds Judge Keller's decision reprehensible and contrary to her own experience at the court, wondering if the judge is "dumb or just mean."

Meanwhile, Burnt Orange Report reminds us that non-lawyers who'd like to join a formal complaint against Keller may do so here. Also, Rep. Jessica Farrar has filed her own complaint with the commission, which BOR has placed online here.

NUTHER UPDATE: R.G. Ratcliffe at the Houston Chronicle analyzes Keller's most controversial rulings.


Anonymous said...

It's time for her to geaux.

Anonymous said...

Scott Cobb is sponsoring or spearheading a public petition or complaint against the Judge, to be filed October 30. He claims that so far more than 700 people have signed it.

You can get the online complaint from

Anonymous said...

Waaaaaaaaaah. Waaaaaaaaaaah.

Perhaps someone could explain why murderers have a divine right to keep courts open when other litigants do not.