Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sharon Keller: Out by 2010?

I just put up a reader poll in the sidebar posing the question, "Will Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller keep her job through the end of the year?" Possible answers are "Yes," "No, she'll be impeached," No, she'll be removed by the Commission on Judicial Conduct," or "No, she'll resign."

Until the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee hearing last week, I would have prognosticated the chances Judge Keller would be impeached were exceedingly slim. Now I'm not so sure. For starters, a GOP committee chairman gave Burnam's resolution a hearing - a signal that concern about the CCA's presiding judge to at least some extent crosses party lines, something that was also evident among committee members at the hearing.

What's more, Burnam vowed to bring a resolution to the floor of the House before the end of the legislative session to impeach Judge Keller, saying that a) it's a "privileged" motion, so the chair can't keep him from making it, and b) the Lege does not need a special "call" by the Governor to consider the matter after the biennial 140 day session ends on sine die. Assuming both things are true, he can probably force a record vote in some form or fashion. If the House votes to impeach, Keller would be temporarily removed until the Senate can hold a trial.

That makes her removal via impeachment at least a within-the-ballpark possibility, even if it's an outside shot. The House is closely divided at 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats. But if Rs start to bolt the stable, it wouldn't take very many to tip the balance, assuming most Dems vote to impeach (which may be, I'll admit, an invalid assumption). In any event, it's not a mathematical impossibility assuming Burnam is actually allowed to make the motion.

The next option - her ouster by the Commission on Judicial Conduct - also appears more likely than I'd have ever predicted. They've initiated formal removal proceedings and appointed a judge who will hold hearings beginning August 17. That looks pretty serious and they might force her removal as part of a settlement in the case.

Retirement would no doubt be the easiest way out - "I'm taking more time to spend with my family," etc, etc. - but something tells me Sharon Keller's not a quitter and I won't be surprised to see her fight it out to the bitter end.

Which leads us to the other option: That she makes it through the end of the year and just sticks out her term through 2012. There's a decent chance the House won't impeach her, after all, and an even better chance the Senate wouldn't convict her. And even if the Commission on Judicial Conduct Commission finds against her, there are remedies available to them (that they may be inclined to use) short of removing Judge Keller from office.

So this question seems like a tossup to me. I can't decide which outcome I think is most likely. Register your opinion in the sidebar poll and use the comments to say why you voted the way you did.

BONUS QUESTION: Since we're speculating, who might Rick Perry appoint to replace her?


Michael said...

I think Killer should retire early to "spend more time with my family and figure out what other real estate in the Metroplex I own and don't know about".

I think I'm with you ... I see impeachment in the House but not conviction in the Senate (couldn't help noticing that the Austin American-Fishwrap has editorialized against impeachment; apparently Austin, like Washington, thinks throwing criminals out of statewide office isn't that important). Despite its slower-than-molasses speed, I think the CJC will come up with something before the Lege will.

In the event Killer does leave the bench, how about replacing her with former Williamson County DA and current 277th District Court Judge Ken Anderson? He'd be hard to beat when he came up for election.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Chuck Rosenthal? I'm sure someone else can think of some other win-at-all-costs prosecutor to put on the highest criminal court in the state.

Anonymous said... the bonus question. No doubt, whomever Rick Perry picks, he will be a loyal to a fault crony...Texas style.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's the double-edged sword in this deal, 5:59 - removing Keller leaves Rick Perry free to appoint whoever he wants, and his sole aim will likely be to win votes with the hard-right GOP primary base next spring, so this could be a "be careful what you ask for" moment. God knows who he might select, given who he chose for the parole board.

Assuming he doesn't go with somebody quite THAT out there, if I had to guess at possible replacements, I think he might go with a minority conservative like former Solicitor General Ted Cruz (though Cruz may think the CCA beneath him and prefer to run for Attorney General if Greg Abbott makes a go for KB Hutchison's Senate seat) or Justice George Hanks on the First Court of Appeals. Or maybe another woman, like Justice Jane Bland on the First Court.

Michael, I agree Ken Anderson might be a good choice, I just don't know where he stands with the Governor's political set, which as 5:59 alludes is a critical part of the selection process.

Anonymous said...

I am sitting here thinking about your answers. For those of us with little or no faith in the judicial process here in Texas, there should be a last choice of , "No, She'll get off just like most of them do."

Justice is VERY blind in some instances

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:25 - Respondents wishing to register that opinion should check "Yes." If she lasts through the year, it probably means she just gets away with it and stays until the voters remove her.

As far as your last line, just as an aside, I grew up in Smith County where a sculptor famously left the blindfold off of the courthouse statue of Lady Justice (which has since been removed because it became an object of public derision).

In the case of Sharon Keller, I've never thought of Justice as blind so much as peeking out from under the blindfold, with her thumb on the scale.

Anonymous said...

Why are the prosecutors moving so slow on the bribery charges against Rep Hodge? And they let her stay on the House Criminal Justice and jurisprudence committees? How nice. She needs to be held to standards that we all are.

OKU2011 said...

Sharon Keller, a real peach huh? Where do these people come from? I am amazed at what passes for justice in Texas. This is frightening.