Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why nobody likes Judge Keller and she should quit and go home

New headaches seem to crop up every day for Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ever since she refused to accept condemned murderer Michael Richard's last minute appeal. (See prior Grits posts here, here, here, here, and here.)

Now she's even seeing protesters outside her home, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has filed a complaint with the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission, as did the Texas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association and other prominent Texas attorneys before them. A Washington Post columnist called for her ouster. Here in Texas, the Dallas News editorialized that "It may be impossible to remove the stain that Sharon Keller ... has placed on the state's judiciary."

Yesterday, Richard's widow sued Judge Keller over the decision, saying it "exceeded her authority." A "duty judge" had been assigned to the case, but Judge Keller rejected Richard's appeal without consulting her. For that reason, I disagree with this blogger that the widow has filed a "junk lawsuit." In any event, it's certainly one more headache.

For her sake, I hope Keller owns a dog because nobody else seems to want her around. At this point, for the good of the court and for the sake of the reputation of the Texas justice system, I think the most honorable thing would be for her to resign her seat.

Think about it, Judge Keller: I bet you'll feel better.

At least one substantive reform has come from the Richard fiasco this week.As Quorum Report put it on their Daily Buzz:

Supposed fail safe system aimed at preventing Chief Justice Keller or anyone else from preemptively blocking future emergency appeals

After the national embarassment of Chief Justice Sharon Keller circumventing her colleagues and locking the doors to prevent an emergency death penalty appeal filing after 5PM, the Court of Criminal Appeals has instituted what they say will be a fail-safe email system. ...

The e-mail system will be a stop-gap procedure before the development and implementation of a more wide-ranging electronic case-filing system due for all Texas appeals courts. That system is scheduled for operation in early 2010.
Texas Kaos has more, and here's the Dallas News' coverage. An assistant DA from Texas blogging at Man o' Law praised the CCA's decision to accept e-filings, and summed up my overall view on Keller's actions, declaring:
Ya know, if the State is going to execute someone, let's at least follow the law and procedures, and add a dash of common sense and humanity into the equation, including the thought "well SCOTUS is looking at this, why don't we wait the extra 20 minutes to allow the filing of the last minute appeal, and we can execute him later"?

We are supposed to be the good guys, y'all.


Anonymous said...

There is also a website dedicated to her at that includes a song written by an attorney/singer/songwriter in Austin.

Anonymous said...

I like her. She did the wright thing.

Anonymous said...

Someone should remind Ms. Richard that the victim in this case was Marguerite Dixon and not her murdering husband.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

She may have done what you wanted, 12:52, but by no stretch did she do the right (or "wright") thing.

And to 1:11, as I've written elsewhere, "Michael Richard may have been a scumbag, but that doesn't give judges license to emulate his unsavory character."

Anonymous said...

Since when is closing a court when it is supposed to be closed "inhumane"? The rules are supposed to be for everyone, death row inmates included.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What are you talking about, 1:53? Who used the word "inhumane"? Only you! She violated the open courts doctrine in the Texas Constitution, and usurped the authority of the duty judge whose decision it should have been. I don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a copy of the lawsuit, in case anyone wants to read it.

Anonymous said...

Judge Keller was correct. The only people who don't want her around are liberals who have greater sympathy for criminals than they do for their victims, the law, and those who uphold it.

Anonymous said...

Siding with Judge Keller just brings out how blood thirsty some people are.

"Sympathy" for the Constitutional rights of every American is what makes this country great. That means everyone respects the law, even Judges

Anonymous said...

If a Constitutional right had been violated it, one of the US Supreme Court justices would have stopped the execution and the entire court would have reviewed Keller's actions.

They didn't.

Anonymous said...

Keller has made the jobs of people who enforce the law more difficult by the damage she has done to public trust in the courts.

The police need people charged with crimes to know that they can turn themselves in to the authorities and that they will have the protections of the law and a judge that will administer the law fairly and without bias. Until Keller resigns, who in their right mind would submit themselves to the "justice" of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals?

Anonymous said...

Using your argument, as long as Keller remains on the bench there is an incentive not to break the law in the first place.

But then again, I'm more concerned about the protection of innocent victims of criminals than I am in protecting the criminals from justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RWR, when you're a judge, you don't have the luxury of doing the right thing the wrong way. The ends don't justify the means, and those who think it does, like Judge Keller, do not possess what's known in the biz as "judicial temperament."

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, you note that the Supreme Court ruled there was no procedural problem. So quit complaining -- the world is a better place.

Anonymous said...

Espousing the notion that the Open Courts provision requires a court to never close makes one look like a crank. That’s crayon writ territory.

Cheering on a mob that is going after a judge that you don’t like is brown shirt territory – or, at least, brown something.

This is all especially obnoxious in light of the fact that the origin of this fracas is the shenanigans of Richard’s many post-conviction attorneys. This stay request should have been filed a week before the execution date. And please don’t peddle that nonsense that the Supreme Court had only that day granted cert. This was a commonly urged basis for seeking a stay long before the Supreme Court granted cert.

Perhaps defense attorneys that have screwed up might look at TEX. R. APP. P. 9.2(a)(2), which provides a mechanism to file documents after hours – but that would spoil the chance to make a political point:

"A document is filed in an appellate court by delivering it to:
(2) a justice or judge of that court who is willing to accept delivery. A justice or judge who accepts delivery must note on the document the date and time of delivery, which will be considered the time of filing, and must promptly send it to the clerk."

Anonymous said...

Richard's attorneys then waited until Turner's actual execution date and two days before Chi's execution date to file the same lethal injection claims.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fine, I'm a crank. Any other name calling you'd like to indulge in?

I didn't say the open courts doctrine means courts must never close, but it does mean that they must make emergency provisions for cases where there will be no tomorrow. And there were provisions for emergency filings - i.e., the "duty judge" assigned to the case - whose authority Keller usurped. Procedurally, it simply wasn't Keller's call to make. That's precisely why her peers put forward the e-filing rule. What she did violated the principle that everyone should have access to the courts.

And as Godwin's law implies, labeling Keller's critics "brownshirts" doesn't make what she did right. In fact, she's dead wrong. Texas Monthly three years ago called the CCA Texas' Worst Court, largely because of her. She's turned the court into a national laughingstock, and this case wasn't the first time by a longshot. best,

Daniel said...

Forget it Nameless One and RWR... around this blog it's not the rapist/killers fault. It's the judge that set the entire chain of events in motion.

None of it is the fault of Richard who broke in, raped Marguerite Dixon, shot her in the head and then stole her property.

That damn Sharon Keller is to blame for it all.

Anonymous said...

You said: "but that doesn't give judges license to emulate his unsavory character."

To equate the actions of the Judge with a convicted capital murderer--you have lost all credibility.

Anonymous said...

The fact remains that if someone in power (ie a judge) openly states that they are very much in favour of capital punnishment, it removes their ability to oversee ANY case without prejudice. It is just as bad as prossecution lawyers going in to court BEFORE a trial saying they are going to pursue the death penalty ~ it PREJUDICES the trial.

No one is questioning the convict's guilt. People are questioning whether due process was served by a judge who is known to be biased.

Anonymous said...

Texas deserves a CCA that is functionally able to provide a meaningful review in support of the rights ov every person in the State.

That includes convicted criminals and even RWR.

Texas has a CCA that doesn't do squat! Everyone knows that an appeal in Texas is a waste of time. Texans deserve better work from their CCA.

Anonymous said...

What is TEX. R. APP. P. 9.2(a)(2)? I am not a lawyer. Can someone show me a link so I can see what it says.

Seems to me that Keller also knows about TEX. R. APP. P. 9.2(a)(2), but she purposely mislead the attorneys by telling them that the court closes at 5, when she knew very well that if they contacted the duty judge, they could have submitted their appeal.

She should have told the clerk to tell the attorneys to contact the duty judge. Instead, she acted as if she was the duty judge and told the clerk to tell them "We close at 5". I suspect the attorneys had no idea that she had not consulted with the other judges or the duty judge.

As I said, I am not a lawyer and I had never heard of TEX. R. APP. P. 9.2(a)(2), I am just a regular person trying to understand why a judge would act as Keller did. Since this code exists, and she knows that it exists, she may have purposefully mislead the attorneys that she was speaking for the duty judge or for the whole court. With that as a possibility, then this should be investigated by the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney, which ,as I understand its duties, investigates and prosecutes alleged wrongdoing by public officials.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"you have lost all credibility"

Damn. Whatever will I do now?

Between me and Judge Keller, I'd say it's she who's lost all credibility. E.g., Texas Monthly is not going to call for my impeachment next month. But you're welcome to your opinion.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, and Daniel, I've called Richard a "murderer" and a "scumbag" in this string - I never said he shouldn't be held accountable, and he'll probably still be executed in the end no matter what. All those hackneyed stereotypes you're crowing about don't apply to the positions I've laid out here.

Texas deserves judges we can be proud of, not people who put their personal political agenda over the laws and procedures that should govern their actions. That's what Sharon Keller did, and routinely does, and it's why she shouldn't be a judge.

Anonymous said...

If you don’t like Judge Keller then feel free not to vote for her. I didn’t (and won’t) vote for many of the judges on the court of criminal appeals. But you and your mob ought to lay off on the personal vilification and intimidation tactics. Instead, try to find a legitimate sales pitch for your abolitionist philosophy.

Those of us who believe in the rule of law are revolted by attempts to intimidate judges. We’re also proud of judges who refuse to put up with stunts from the capital defense bar.

It’s outrageous for defense attorneys to expect an appellate court to kowtow to whatever they want to do just because a defendant is facing a death sentence.

Richard’s attorneys had for months (if not years) been filing pleadings in other cases with lethal injection claims similar to the one they allegedly wanted to file in Richard’s case. In other words, it wasn’t an (allegedly) faulty computer or Judge Keller that prevented this claim from being filed on time. It was the dilatory tactics of Richard’s attorneys.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 11:13 - First, for the record, to paraphrase what Hunter Thompson said of Richard Nixon in his administration's final days, this blog was kicking Sharon Keller long before she was down. And I didn't vote for her.

As for Keller, there are many judges who I didn't vote for who I would never call to resign. What she did was over the top and IMO and abuse of her authority for reasons I've made clear. If she'd been the duty judge, I'd be arguing that a complaint was unfounded, whether or not I agreed with her decision - I assure you of that. But that's not what happened. It simply wasn't her call to make to refuse the appeal.

Also, as the Texas Monthly article will make clear, she's not a first offender. She's been turning the CCA into a national laughingstock for years, but as Mike Hall wrote in Texas Monthly, "Nobody is laughing now." Time for her to go, and sorry if it offends you that somebody would say so publicly.

Anonymous said...

Talk about nobody wanting her around. She attended Red Mass, an invocation of God's grace on the judiciary and its proceedings, last month in San Antonio. Another CCA judge brought her to the event, ostensibly on a rehab tour. Ordinarily, guests flock to judges at these things to shake hands and say hello. Instead, the judges sat in a quiet corner and nobody approached them. Keller made herself a pariah in the legal community. Serves her right.

I did not, however, take notice whether the statue of Jesus wept or whether the holy water burned her during the mass.