Friday, June 11, 2010

David Dow warned, Sharon Keller on the dock

While my focus remains elsewhere for the moment, I can't help but anticipate next Friday's June 18 hearing at the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will hear oral arguments in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's removal proceedings. I've consistently kept the date clear and plan to show up early for the queue to get a good seat. Mary Alice Robbins at Texas Lawyer has an excellent preview of the case, and Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle has an early writeup.

Judge David Berchelmann in his findings of fact thought that appellate attorney David Dow's culpability subsumed Judge Keller's, while the Special Master says Berchelmann used the wrong standard of review, weighing comparative blame as though this were a civil dispute between Keller and Dow instead of evaluating Judge Keller's actions on their own merits. (Notably, the forensic psychologist in Richard's case was later found to have inflated IQ scores in death penalty cases on behalf of prosecutors, so if his appeal had been allowed there is a decent chance Richard had a legitimate claim.)

Relatedly, the Court of Criminal Appeals let David Dow - Judge Keller's declared nemesis in the Richards imbroglio - off with a warning for missing a court-imposed appeals deadline, albeit in a different case than the one causing Judge Keller all the trouble. AP reports he was "threatened with sanctions Wednesday if he files any more late appeals for death row inmates."

And on top of it all, there's still an outside chance criminal charges may be filed against Judge Keller over misstatements in her financial disclosures that earned the judge a record $100,000 fine from the Ethics Commission, though if he'd planned to do so Travis County Attorney David Escamilla has had the Ethics Commission ruling alleging misdemeanors for some time now. Those possible charges are unrelated to the allegations before the Commission on Judicial Conduct, except that the reporting lapses were discovered after Keller asked a court to pay for her lawyers while failing to disclose millions in income and assets.

These are troubled and uncertain times for the Presiding Judge of Texas' highest criminal court, not to mention a heady public moment for the normally sleepy Commission on Judicial Conduct.

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