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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Crossing the line to challenge an unethical judge

KEYE had a good report on last night's protest at the home of unethical judge Sharon Keller. About 1200 people have signed the judicial complaint against Keller. Sign it here.

Click here for the video.

Outside the Austin home of a powerful state judge, protestors showed up this Tuesday evening to file an unusual appeal.

Scott Cobb, protestor: "She should be removed from office."

They are pleading for the ouster of Judge Sharon Keller, who presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Last month, as convicted murderer Michael Richard was headed to the execution chamber, his attorneys filed a last minute appeal asking Keller's court to hold off on the execution while the Supreme Court considers the whole issue of lethal injection.

As the story goes, their paperwork was delayed by a problematic printer, and when they asked for more time, the judge reportedly told them the Court of Appeals closes at 5. Hours later, Richard was put to death.

Cobb: "They had a little technical snafu and it shouldn't have impacted whether this person lived or died."

So demonstrators are determined to literally bring home the message that they want Keller out. But staking out her house, one neighbor says, is a little extreme no matter how impassioned they are about their cause.

Rich Lampert, neighbor: "If it's work-related, leave it in the workplace. I think they've crossed the line."

But those who came with placards in hand insist that, like the judge, they have 9-to-5 jobs requiring that they track her down after work.

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Texas Prosecutors Acknowledge De Facto Moratorium

From the AP:

WASHINGTON - Two prosecutors in Texas, the nation's leader in executions, said Wednesday they will wait for a Supreme Court decision on lethal injection procedures before asking judges to set execution dates for death row inmates.

Roe Wilson, who handles death penalty appeals for the Harris County District Attorney's Office in the Houston area, said she also plans to ask a judge to withdraw the Feb. 26 execution date for a man convicted of killing a woman and her 2-year-old son.

"It seems the common sense thing to do at this point," Wilson said, with the Supreme Court indicating that most, if not all, executions will not go forward while it considers lethal injections in a case from Kentucky.

Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said he asked a judge to cancel a Jan. 24 execution for the same reason. "It just seemed to me that the writing was very apparent," Garza said. "Now we'll let them rule and we can come back in and act accordingly."

In Texas, dates for executions are set by trial judges, typically at the request of local prosecutors. Twenty-six of the nation's 42 executions this year have taken place in Texas. No other state has had more than three.

Texas plans no more executions in 2007 after federal and state judges stopped four death sentences from being carried out.

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Star-Telegram: Sharon Keller did it

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is joining in the criticism of Sharon Keller.

During Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's tenure, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has been derided for seeing no harm when lawyers commit obvious errors. In its zeal to uphold convictions come what may, the court has been scolded by the U.S. Supreme Court for not following precedent.

But for sheer myopia, it's hard to top Keller's refusal to keep the court open long enough to accept an emergency appeal from a Death Row inmate about to be executed.

Even Keller's fellow judges were dumbfounded by her rigidity.
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Computer problems delayed printing of the materials, so the attorneys asked the appeals court to let them file 20 minutes after the regular 5 p.m. closing time. Keller refused.

She did it without consulting Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned Richards' case and who told the Austin American-Statesman that she would have accepted a last-minute filing, given that it was a death penalty case.

Keller did it without consulting Judge Paul Womack, who told the Houston Chronicle that he stayed at the courthouse until 7 p.m. anticipating a last-minute filing, given the Supreme Court's action and the importance of the issue.

She did it even though courts often allow after-hours petitions under atypical circumstances. The Texas Supreme Court, which handles civil appeals, has stayed open for urgent filings in parental notification cases, a spokesman said.

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Protest hits home for Texas judge who refused to hear late appeal


By Amanda DeBard
Daily Texan
Oct 31, 2007

Austin anti-death penalty activist Alison Dieter protests outside of the home of Judge Sharon Keller on Tuesday evening.
Media Credit: Bryant Haertlein
Austin anti-death penalty activist Alison Dieter protests outside of the home of Judge Sharon Keller on Tuesday evening.

A group of activists opposing the death penalty rallied outside Judge Sharon Keller's home in North Austin Tuesday night.

Keller presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and refused to accept a late death penalty appeal on Sept. 25, which resulted in Michael Richard's execution.

"We came to where we think she can hear us," said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, an organization in opposition of the death penalty.

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Cobb said the protest occurred at Keller's house because most members of his organization work until 5 p.m. when the Court of Criminal Appeals office would be closed.

Keller did not come out of her house at any point during the protest and did not respond to knocks on her front door.

In light of Richard's execution, Cobb said he thinks the trust in and integrity of the criminal justice system has been lost.

"We're asking for her to be removed from office to restore the integrity of the system," he said. "If there is no trust in the system, then the whole thing breaks down."

About 1,200 public members have signed the judicial complaint against Keller, which will be delivered to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct Nov. 6. The complaint is sponsored by the Texas Moratorium Network.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Sharon Killer" - Listen to the song


powered by ODEO

Visit the website of Possumhead to learn more about the band and listen to their other songs. Jennifer Mattingly is an Austin attorney who wrote the song "Sharon Killer". She recorded it with her band Possumhead.

Click here to sign the judicial complaint against Judge Sharon Keller. Jennifer has already signed it.

Jennifer Mattingly: Vocals and Guitar

Craig Matthews: Bass Guitar and Harmonica

Monte Mann: Guitar, Keyboards, Drum Programming

Produced by Monte Mann and Jennifer Mattingly at Curlyhead Recording Studio Austin, Texas

Words and Music by Jennifer Mattingly © 2003, 2004, 2005





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Protestors call for Texas judge Sharon Keller to resign

06:42 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
By ELISE HU
KVUE News

Protestors visited the Austin home of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals presiding judge Sharon Keller Tuesday night, as a decision she made in late September continues to draw a flurry of judicial complaints.


On September 25, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection. As the issue is pending, every scheduled execution nationwide has been put on hold.

Except for one.

Convicted killer Michael Richard was set to die the same day the high court set its docket. His attorneys filed an appeal to Keller's court, but didn't get the filings in until 5:20pm. Keller refused to keep the court open, saying "we close at five."

"A man was executed that shouldn't have been executed that night," said Scott Cobb, who led the Tuesday protest. "He certainly was guilty, from everything we know about this case. But even the guilty are protected under the United States constitution."

Other judges who were working late Sept. 25 said they would have reviewed the post-deadline appeal.

The protest is accompanied by an additional judicial complaint, signed now by more than 1,200 Texans. Lawmakers, lawyers and advocacy groups have filed separate judicial complaints against Keller. It's up to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to decide whether Keller is reprimanded.

"She has violated the public trust that the people of Texas put into her when we elected her and she's also damaged the integrity of the entire Texas judicial system," Cobb said.

Keller, who was first elected in 1994 as a tough-on-crime Republican, did not comment for this story. Questions were directed to Judge Tom Price, whose office didn't return KVUE's calls as of Tuesday evening.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

DNA May Exonerate West Memphis 3

Perhaps the one issue that undermines public confidence in the death penalty the most is the risk of innocent people being sentenced to death. The New York Times is reporting that one of the most notorious murder cases in recent times may have resulted in three innocent people being wrongfully convicted.

From the NYT:

In 1994, three teenagers in the small city of West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in what prosecutors portrayed as a satanic sacrifice involving sexual abuse and genital mutilation. So shocking were the crimes that when the teenagers were led from the courthouse after their arrest, they were met by 200 local residents yelling, “Burn in hell.”

But according to long-awaited new evidence filed by the defense in federal court on Monday, there was no DNA from the three defendants found at the scene, the mutilation was actually the work of animals and at least one person other than the defendants may have been present at the crime scene.

Supporters of the defendants hope the legal filing will provide the defense with a breakthrough. Two of the men, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, are serving life in prison, while one, Damien W. Echols, is on death row. There was no physical evidence linking the teenagers, now known as the West Memphis 3, to the crime.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mark White: Keller's action an 'egregious' breach of equity

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that after he was told that Sharon Keller had refused to accept an appeal from Michael Richard's lawyers, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office gave them six minutes to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court or else the execution would begin.

Mark White, former Texas governor and former Texas Attorney General, is highly critical of Keller, Perry and Abbott in the Richard case. He says that Perry could have issued a 30-day stay of execution after Keller refused to stay open an extra 20 minutes to accept Richard's appeal. As reported in the Chronicle:

White said Abbott should have stopped the execution himself or asked Gov. Rick Perry to institute a 30-day stay. White said Keller also should have allowed Richard to file an appeal.

White said that as governor he always made sure he could stop an execution right up to the last minute.

"When there was an execution pending, I had an open line to the execution chamber and the attorney general was there so Texas would never look like we were ghoulish, uncaring," White said.
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White said even if the state ultimately executed Richard, he had a right to have his appeals heard because that creates a fundamental citizen trust in the court system.

"That court of criminal appeals, that attorney general and that governor failed to halt one of the most egregious breaches of equity in the courts that I've ever known," White said.
Anyone can sign on to a judicial complaint against Keller by clicking here.

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Another Texas Lawyer Group Files Complaint Against Sharon Keller

The Austin American Statesman is reporting today that another group has filed a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller. In addition, so far 1055 people have signed on to a complaint to be filed on Nov 6 that is being organized by TMN. Any member of the general public who is outraged at Keller's behavior can sign on to the TMN complaint.

Link:

The state's largest organization of criminal defense lawyers filed an ethics complaint Friday against Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

By denying an after-hours appeal for death row inmate Michael Richard last month, Keller destroyed public confidence in the legal system and discredited the Texas judiciary, according to the complaint by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

The letter of complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, signed by President Craig Jett of Dallas on behalf of the organization's 2,800 members, was approved 53-2 by the group's board Thursday.

Similar complaints have been filed by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, three legislators and the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Houston Chronicle: Anti-Execution March Moves to Houston This Saturday

Congratulations to the Houston organizers of the 8th Annual March to Stop Executions for getting the Houston Chronicle to cover the march before it even happens. This is great media work! Way to go Gloria Rubac, who works with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.

To see pictures from past years marches in Austin, click here. One of the speakers at the march in Houston will be the sister of Michael Richard. He was executed in Texas on Sept 25 after Judge Sharon Keller told his lawyers "We close at 5". If you would like to join the more than 1,000 who have signed a judicial complaint against Keller click here.

There are always a lot of people who comment on death penalty articles in the Chronicle, so if you follow the link, you can leave a comment on the article.

http://www.chron.com/disp/commnts.mpl/metropolitan/5247314.html

Oct. 26, 2007, 12:46AM

Anti-execution march moves to Houston

Ex-death row inmates to take on Harris County's sentencing record
By ALLAN TURNERCopyright 2007 Houston Chronicle


Former death row inmates Clarence Brandley and Kerry Max Cook will be keynote speakers Saturday at a Houston anti-death penalty march and rally expected to draw protesters from throughout the state and nation.

Normally held in Austin, the march, now in its eighth year, was moved to Houston to protest Harris County juries' record of leading the nation in assessing death sentences, said event organizer Gloria Rubac. Since executions were resumed 25 years ago, 102 killers from Harris County have been executed; 122 remain on death row.

The March to Stop Executions will assemble at 2 p.m. at Emancipation Park, 3018 Dowling, then proceed to SHAPE Center, 3815 Live Oak, for a 3:30 p.m. rally.

The theme of the event is "Celebrating Our Victories, Remembering Our Losses; Continuing the Fight for Abolition!"


Brandley, who was convicted of the August 1980 rape-murder of Cheryl Dee Ferguson, a 16-year-old volleyball player at Conroe High School, spent a decade on death row before prosecutors dropped charges against him. Investigators' failure to compare a Caucasian hair found on Ferguson's body with that of other possible suspects in the case was among presumed irregularities in the case cited by Brandley's advocates.

At the conclusion of an evidentiary hearing in October 1987, state District Judge Perry Picket called on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant Brandley a new trial. "The litany of events graphically described by the witnesses, some of it chilling and shocking, leads me to the conclusion the pervasive shadow of darkness has obscured the light of fundamental decency and human rights," he wrote.


After unsuccessfully appealing to stop a new trial, the prosecution dropped charges in October 1990.

Cook spent 22 years on death row after he was convicted of the 1977 rape-murder of Linda Jo Edwards, a Tyler woman. He was tried three times and twice condemned. After he won a new trial in 1993, Cook was freed from prison based on time served after he entered a no contest plea. Months later, DNA linked Edwards' murder to another man.

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1035 People and Counting Sign Judicial Complaint Against Sharon Keller

As of today at 3:25pm, 1035 people from all walks of life have signed on to our judicial complaint against Judge Sharon Keller.

Anyone can sign the complaint by clicking here.

Many people have left comment, such as Frank Amies, who wrote "We are all equal under the law so it is the responsibility to those who administer it to do so fairly and impartially."

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

8th Annual March to Stop Executions this Saturday in Houston

The sister of Michael Richard is one of the speakers at the 8th Annual March to Stop Executions this Saturday in Houston. Her brother was the person executed in Texas on Sept 25 after Sharon Keller said "We close at 5". He was the last person executed in the U.S. before the start of the de facto moratorium, but he should not have died that night.

He was killed by Texas' one person lynch mob, Judge Sharon Keller. He also had a mental retardation claim that was not recognized by the courts.

We are going to have sign on sheets at the march for anyone who wants to sign on to the judicial complaint we are filing on behalf of members of the general public against Keller.

You can sign the complaint online by clicking here. We already have almost 900 signers. After the march, we will surely have more than 1,000.

See you in Houston.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

NYT: National Group with 13,000 Lawyers Files Complaint Against Sharon Keller

The New York Times is reporting today that

on Wednesday, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, with 13,000 members nationwide, said it had just sent a complaint against Judge Keller to the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, the first judicial complaint the group had ever filed, said its president, Carmen D. Hernandez, of Washington.

“Whatever else happens in the United States of America, the courts are to remain open to litigants,” Ms. Hernandez said.
Also, so far, almost 900 people from all walks of life have signed on to a complaint from members of the public that is being organized by Texas Moratorium Network. The sister of Michael Richard, Patricia Miller, is one of the people who have signed the TMN complaint. Patricia Miller will speak on Saturday at the 8th Annual March to Stop Executions in Houston.

Anyone can sign the complaint online by clicking here.

TMN is also responsible for persuading several elected officials to file complaints against Keller, including State Representatives Burnam, Dutton, Olivo and Farrar.

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Travis County Democratic Party Executive Committee Approves Iraq Referendum Proposal

Tonight, the County Executive Committee of the Travis County Democratic Party approved a resolution urging the State Democratic Executive Committee to put a referendum on Iraq on the March 2008 primary ballot.

Only one person voted against the proposal.

The CEC is going to send a letter to State Chair Boyd Richie telling him of their endorsement of putting the referendum on the ballot.

Scott Cobb, who is leading the initiative, said he hopes that he can get other county CECs in November and December to approve the resolution before he takes it to the SDEC for their approval in January. The SDEC has the power to put the referendum on the ballot.

Anyone can sign the online petition for the Vote Us Out of Iraq referendum.

The proposed language reads, "Shall President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress, in support of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and immediately begin the safe and orderly withdrawal of all United States forces."

Meanwhile, the big national news today on the war concerned the cost of the war. Back in 2003, Bush said the war in Iraq would cost between 50 and 60 billion dollars. As it turns out, the war has cost about 40 times more than Bush said it would.

More on today's war cost news from the Toronto Star:

WASHINGTON-George W. Bush has asked the U.S. Congress to approve another $45.9 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the 2008 tab to almost $200 billion and making it the most expensive year of military combat in his so-called "war on terror.''
...
According to the independent Congressional Research Service, the $196.1 billion request by Bush for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 would bring the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations to more than $800 billion since terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Even with an optimistic projection of half as many American troops in Iraq by 2017, the research service said spending on the wars would hit $1.45 trillion by then.

The Iraq war alone is costing U.S. taxpayers about $10 billion per month, or $330 million each day.

"The Iraq war is leaving us less secure, unprepared to fight an effective war on terror or respond to the unexpected. President Bush should not expect the Congress to rubber stamp this,'' said Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Next Travis County DA Should Take Death Penalty Off the Table for Good

Paul Burka is reporting that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle may be retiring. Burka says that "a DA is supposed to be the conscience of the community", which brings up the issue of how the next district attorney should handle death penalty cases in a county where probably a big majority believe that the death penalty system in Texas is broken. The next DA in Travis County should reflect the community's feelings on the death penalty and say that the death penalty is off the table within Travis County.

The people of Travis County are very comfortable with life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. Any candidate who seeks nomination as district attorney in Travis County should pledge not to seek the death penalty. There is no law that requires a district attorney to seek death. Life without parole is a valid alternative. In a contested Democratic primary in Travis County, a candidate who acknowledges that the death penalty system in Texas is riddled with problems and puts innocent people at risk of execution is likely to be rewarded with community support.

More from Burka's post:

All signs point to Earle's retirement as district attorney. The first indication I received was an e-mail from a prospective candidate:

Paul, I am writing to inform you of my decision to commence an exploratory campaign to become the next District Attorney of Travis County. If, as I expect, Ronnie decides to retire at the end of his current term, I intend to do everything humanly possible to succeed him ....

In the event that I do become a candidate for District Attorney - and I have good reason to believe that I will soon have that opportunity - I hope that we will be able to count on your support.

The e-mail came from Rick Reed, an attorney who I got to know through Tom DeLay's successful challenge to his indictment for conspiracy. Reed fashioned a winning argument but he had a losing court (of Criminal Appeals).

Ronnie Earle has never claimed to be a great lawyer, but he has been a great DA for this town. A DA is supposed to be the conscience of the community, a role too many DAs spurn while trying to push the ethical envelope to secure convictions.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Joan Cheever: Is Sharon Keller dumb or just mean?

Joan Cheever who once worked at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as a briefing attorney, has an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle that concludes by asking, "But I still would like to know: Did Keller close the office at 5 p.m. because she's dumb or just mean?"

Sign our complaint and tell the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that Keller should be removed or compelled to resign.

More from Cheever's op-ed:

As quick as a hiccup, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller denied Richard's lawyers the 20 minutes they needed to print the darn thing out and get it to the court —11 copies of Richard's 108-page petition and get it to the court. E-mails aren't allowed. And I guess a frantic, pleading phone call doesn't count, either.

Keller didn't even pick up the phone and call the other judges on the court to get their opinions. At least two of them have said they were hanging around the court that evening, just waiting for Richard's application. The judges were ready to vote. The U.S. Supremes couldn't step in, procedurally, unless and until the Texas judges called it first.

All the Texas judges had to have been available by phone for this vote. At least that's what they are supposed to do at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, most especially in the hours before an execution. At least that's what they did in 1983, when I worked there as a briefing attorney. In the weeks and days and, most especially, on the day and in the hours leading up to a midnight execution, everyone knew about it — the lawyers, the court clerk, the clerical staff, even the nightly cleaning crew.
Cheever is a former briefing attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the author of Back From the Dead: One woman's search for the men who walked off America's death row (John Wiley & Sons 2006).

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Friday, October 19, 2007

State Rep. Jessica Farrar Signs Judicial Complaint Against Sharon Keller

Here is a pdf of Rep Farrar's letter to the commission.

Anyone can sign on to a judicial complaint againts Keller by clicking here.

October 19, 2007

State Commission on Judicial Conduct
P.O. Box 12265
Austin, TX 78711

Dear Members of the Commission:

I am writing to file a formal complaint against Judge Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On the evening of September 25, 2007, Judge Keller refused to keep her office open past 5pm to accept the pleading of Michael Richard, a man scheduled to be executed by lethal injection that same night. Judge Keller's unethical actions require the commission to take immediate disciplinary measures against her.

Mr. Richard's constitutional rights were denied by Judge Keller and he was executed later that night. This incident has cast a pall over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and has greatly diminished the public's perception of the courts as a fair and impartial mechanism for justice.

Judge Keller knew Mr. Richard's pleading was on its way to the court and still she refused to open her doors and accept the submission. This may have been understandable in the case of a traffic ticket violation, but when a person's life is at stake it is simply unconscionable. Judge Keller should be reprimanded promptly for her judicial misconduct. The damage done to the integrity of Texas courts is not irreversible; however, it must include stringent disciplinary action against Judge Keller, including the consideration of removing her from office.

Respectfully,

Representative Jessica Farrar
District 148

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130 more lawyers, judges, ordinary citizens file another complaint against Sharon Keller

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that a third complaint has been filed against Sharon Keller. The first complaint was filed by twenty lawyers. A second complaint was filed by State Representative Lon Burnam. The Harris County Lawyers Association has now filed a third complaint. And another complaint by members of the general public that is being organized by Texas Moratorium Network will be filed against Keller on October 30.

Any members of the public can sign on to the complaint by clicking here. So far, more than 700 people have signed on to the general public members complaint.

From the Chronicle:

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.
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The Harris County defense bar is calling for all other state bar agencies to complain about Keller as well.

"Every bar group should be incensed at this conduct and this callousness," said Patrick McCann, president of the Harris County group. "This judge knew what the effect of shutting that door was."

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Today's Killer Attacks from Columnists


Photo by Jana Birchum

In the photo are TMN's Scott Cobb and Alison Dieter at the press conference at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for the announcement that 20 lawyers, including State Rep Harold Dutton, were filing a complaint against Keller.

Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle is reporting that Jim Harrington has "filed a grievance with the Texas Bar Association, seeking a revocation of Sharon Keller's law license."

Hmm, wonder what job Keller will get if she can't be a lawyer anymore. She could be a prison guard, but the warden might not trust her alone after 5 with the inmates. She might start executing them on our own. Sign the complaint against Keller. 708 people have signed so far.

Rebeca Chapa of the San Antonio Express News writes in "In Texas, hang 'em high justice has dropped to a new low"
Let me see if I have this right.

Judge Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the state's highest criminal court, doesn't see anything wrong with closing the court's doors at 5 p.m. sharp on a day when 1) the U.S. Supreme Court announces it will hear a precedent-setting lethal injection case and 2) a Texas man is set to be executed by lethal injection.

Wow. That's some Texas justice there, boy.

Hooman Hedayti, who is writing a column this semester for the Daily Texan says in "Killer Keller Must Resign":
To close at 5 p.m. and refuse to accept an appeal by a person about to be executed is a violation of judicial responsibility. When a person is about to be executed, our state's highest criminal court needs to remain open for business. As long as Keller is in office, the people of Texas cannot be sure that justice is being done with integrity. Judge Sharon Keller should resign or be removed from office by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct.

If you are as shocked as I was by Judge Sharon Keller's refusal to accept an appeal 20 minutes after 5 p.m. from lawyers representing a man about to be executed, then sign on to the general public complaint against Judge Sharon Keller by going to SharonKiller.com. The complaint will be submitted to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Oct. 30.
and Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle says in "Closing Time? Attorneys Call for Justice's Head":
Keller claimed she was unaware that Dow had encountered computer problems and would need more time to get the appeal filed – but that's either a lie or it indicates a serious internal communication problem at the court. Although Keller and CCA general counsel Ed Marty have said that the 5pm deadline is standard for the court, it doesn't appear that the other CCA judges knew anything about the supposed rule. Several justices stayed late at work that evening in anticipation of the last-minute appeal; and Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned to handle the Richard case, had no idea that Keller set the clearly arbitrary 5pm deadline. Johnson told the Austin American-Statesman that she was "dismayed" by Keller's decision. "And I was angry," she said. "If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about those things, and I ought to have been asked whether I was willing to stay late and accept those filings."

In addition to refusing last-minute appeals, Keller's office told the Chronicle that the judge is now declining to "accept any calls" regarding her actions in the Richard case. Similarly, Marty did not return calls requesting comment, nor did Judge Tom Price to whom the Chronicle was referred for comment. (Interestingly, Price dissented from the court's decision last month to deny Turner's stay, opining that he didn't understand why the court would be willing to allow executions to go forward when the legality of the method was in question.) As such, at press time it was unclear whether the 5pm deadline – or, perhaps, the Keller Rule – is in fact standard procedure at all; judging by Johnson's response, it's hard to imagine that it is. Indeed, it is standard practice for courts to remain ready to accept such last-minute death-penalty appeals. University of Texas Law professor Jordan Steiker, who teaches constitutional law and is an expert in death penalty jurisprudence, said he doesn't know of any other court handling death row appeals that claims such a deadline. "The decision by the [CCA] to close its doors follows in a long line of resistance by the court to constitu­tion­al norms," he said, "and what is often said of boxing is certainly true for this court – it is a court without an eye left to blacken."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We have a Moratorium! Unless Keller Kills Again

Three executions were stayed today. One execution was set to take place tonight in Virginia, but was stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court. Two other executions that were scheduled to take place soon in Texas were also stayed. So, we seem to have it confirmed that we are in the midst of a national moratorium on executions.

The only things that could break the moratorium are if an inmate drops all appeals, if a state tries to execute someone by a method other than lethal injection or if Sharon Keller lies her way onto death row and starts executing people on her own. The Houston Chronicle has said that Keller has "abdicated her role as the state's chief criminal justice to become its chief executioner", so as long as we keep an eye on Keller, there should be no more executions in the U.S. until after the Supreme Court decides the Baze case on lethal injection.

Sign the complaint against Keller.

More on today's stays from the Houston Chronicle:

In the nation's most active death penalty state, two November executions have been halted because of pending capital punishment issues before the courts.

On Tuesday a federal judge in Sherman stopped the Nov. 6 execution of Allen Bridgers, whose attorneys claim he is mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mentally retarded people cannot be executed.

In another case, a judge in Fort Worth stopped the Nov. 27 execution of Dale Devon Scheanette following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to consider the legality of lethal injection.

"The U.S. is clearly in what amounts to a de-facto death penalty moratorium," said Bridgers' attorney David Dow, who runs the Texas Innocence Network out of the University of Houston Law Center.

As an inmate was spared execution Wednesday in Virginia, the U.S. is headed toward the lowest number of executions since the mid-1990s. So far this year, 42 people have been executed, including 26 in Texas.

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Unlike Judge Sharon Killer, Other Judges Work and Stop Executions

Sharon Keller thought it was ok to close her court and execute someone even though she knew the U.S. Supreme Court had accepted for review a case that would likely halt executions while the highest court in the nation considers the issue of lethal injection. But other judges across the nation are stopping executions, such as these two executions that were scheduled in Texas.

From CBS News:

Dale Devon Scheanette, known as the “bathtub killer,” was scheduled to be put to death on November 27. But earlier this month a court delayed the execution indefinitely.

It’s the latest stay of execution that a court has granted for a Texas inmate in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution.
A federal judge also stopped another upcoming scheduled execution today, that of Allen Bridgers, reports the Houston Chronicle.

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"And wretches hang that jurymen may dine."

Someone we know sent this letter to Governor Perry and the Legislature.

Dear Governor Perry and members of the Texas Legislature,

The English poet Alexander Pope saw his fellow men with a clear, if bitter, eye. Writing of judges like Sharon Keller who unnecessarily hurry events along for their own monstrous convenience--in this case,their dinners-- he said, "And wretches hang that jurymen may dine."

We'd all like to think that in our enlightened age, nothing so terrible could happen, but apparently it has. Ms. Keller's decision to close her court arbitrarily early and thus deny Michael Richard any hope of appeal is breathtaking in its cruel heartlessness. With that decision, Ms. Keller forfeited her privilege to be called "Judge" and earned her the title "Monster."

She should be removed from the Bench by whatever means is swift and final. Let her be the recipient of the justice she denied Mr. Michael.

Muriel Stubbs
Retired teacher
Houston

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

626 people and counting sign on to complaint against Sharon Keller

As of 9:50pm tonight, 626 people have so far signed on to our judicial complaint against Judge Sharon Keller.

You can sign the complaint by clicking here. Anyone can sign the complaint. It is intended as a way for ordinary people to bring their concerns to the attention of the members of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

We plan to send the complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Oct 30.

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Houston Chronicle: Sharon Keller Should be Removed from Office

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board published a strongly worded editorial yesterday calling for removal of Chief Justice Sharon Keller from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals saying "since she will not face the voters until 2012, the miscarriage of justice perpetrated by Chief Justice Keller can only be remedied by a recommendation by the Judicial Conduct Commission to the Texas Supreme Court that she be removed from office".

Congratulations to the Houston Chronicle. They failed to call for the death sentence for Kenneth Foster to be commuted to life, while most other major Texas papers wanted his sentence commuted. But now the Chronicle has beaten even the Dallas Morning News in calling for Keller to be removed from office.

More from the Chronicle's Editorial:

Judge Keller let her personal bias in favor of the death penalty trample the right of now-executed prisoner Michael Richard to access the courts and have due process. In doing so, she abdicated her role as the state's chief criminal justice to become its chief executioner.

As laid out in a complaint to Texas' State Commission on Judicial Conduct signed by 20 distinguished Texas attorneys, including Houston's Dick DeGuerin and University of Houston Law Center professor Michael Olivas, Judge Keller's actions were legally inexcusable. The plot line could be straight from a Law and Order episode, with the twist that in this case it was the justice who committed the injustice.

After the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection, attorneys for Richard, a convicted murderer, had less than a day to craft an appeal for a stay of execution pending resolution of the issue before the high court. A ruling by the Texas court was necessary before the U.S. Supreme Court could consider his appeal.

Because of computer problems, Richard's lawyers requested that the Court of Criminal Appeals remain open past 5 p.m. to take the last-minute appeal. The judge assigned to the case, Cheryl Johnson, and two other judges had stayed late, anticipating that an appeal might be forthcoming before the execution scheduled later that evening. Without informing them of her decision, Judge Keller refused to allow the appeal to be filed after 5 p.m. Richard was executed hours later.

Even Keller's court colleagues expressed dismay at her actions. Justice Johnson was quoted in the complaint as angry, because "if I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about these things, and I ought to have been asked whether I was willing to stay late and accept those filings." She indicated she would have accepted the brief, "because this is a death case." Justice Paul Womack told the Chronicle he waited in his office till 7 p.m. because "it was reasonable to expect an effort would be made in some haste in light of the Supreme Court. I wanted to be sure to be available in case it was raised."

Justice Keller's response to the uproar was that the lawyers should have filed the appeal on time. After all, she said, "they had all day." When an irreversible action like an execution is only hours away from occurring, Keller's adherence to a 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. justice schedule is mind boggling. Civil judges are available at all hours to sign temporary restraining orders as are criminal judges to approve search warrants. Yet in the taking of a life, the most profound action a judge will ever be involved in, Keller wants to stick to banker's hours.

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State Rep Lon Burman Files Judicial Complaint Against Sharon Keller

Today, State Rep Lon Burnam of Fort Worth sent a judicial complaint against Judge Sharon Keller to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. He is the second state legislator to file or sign on to a judicial complaint against Keller. Rep Harold Dutton was one of the 20 lawyers who signed the first complaint last week.

In other developments, the Waco Herald-Tribune wrote in an editorial today that "if Keller cannot be removed from her position, she should be disciplined for her outrageous behavior".

More than 600 people have signed on to our judicial complaint from general public members that we will file on Oct 30. You can sign too!


LON BURNAM
DISTRICT 90 • FORT WORTH
October 15, 2007

State Commission on Judicial Conduct
PO Box 12265
Austin, TX 78711

Dear Members of the Commission:

I am writing to file a complaint with the Commission concerning the actions of Judge Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, on the evening of September 25. According to several news accounts, Judge Keller refused to keep her office open later than 5pm to receive the pleading of Michael Richard who was killed by lethal injection later that night. It is my opinion that her actions were unprofessional and unethical and constitute judicial misconduct. I urge you to take prompt and appropriate disciplinary action against Judge Keller,
which should include serious consideration of removal from office.

Judge Keller’s actions resulted in the loss of constitutional rights of Mr. Richard. Further, her actions have embarrassed the state of Texas and cast severe doubt on the impartiality of the Court of Criminal Appeals. The public’s perception of the fairness of the courts is vital to the maintenance of the rule of law. If disciplinary action is not taken against Judge Keller, this perception will be irreparably harmed.

It is simply unconscionable and unacceptable for any officer of the court to close the doors of the court when a pleading for a man’s life is known to be on the way. I urge you to take swift and decisive action to repair the damage done by Judge Keller to the integrity of Texas courts.

Sincerely,

Lon Burnam

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Waco Trib Editorial: Hold Sharon Keller Accountable

The Waco Tribune-Herald Editorial Board in an editorial on Oct 16, 2007 wrote that Sharon Keller "should be held accountable for her shocking behavior".

More:

Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, shamed the state by deciding that 20 minutes of her time was more important than a last-minute appeal for a man on death row.

If Keller cannot be removed from her position, she should be disciplined for her outrageous behavior.
Members of the public may sign on to a judicial complaint against Keller by clicking here.

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Video of ABC World News Tonight Report on Sharon Keller

Here is a link to the video from ABC News World News Tonight with Charles Gibson on Sharon Keller.

After you watch it, you will probably want to sign on to the judicial complaint against Keller, which you can do here.

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Judge Susan Criss Joins Complaint Against Sharon Keller

The Honorable Judge Susan Criss of the 212th Judicial District Court has written on the Burnt Orange Report that she is joining in filing a complaint against Judge Sharon Keller.

When sitting judges begin joining judicial complaints against another judge, you know that there has been a serious breach in judicial ethics. Sharon Keller did not act in an honorable manner by closing the court at 5pm on the day of an execution, but she can do the honorable thing now and resign.

We can all be proud to see a sitting judge, such as the Honorable Judge Susan Criss of the 212 Judicial District Court, join in the criticism of Sharon Keller's shocking action. It feels so good to use the phrase "The Honorable" again when referring to a judge. Sharon Keller is no longer fit to be called "The Honorable"

Quoting from Judge Criss

Many of us in the legal community were also stunned to see twenty lawyers publicly announce they were filing a complaint with the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission against Judge Kellar for her actions that day.

While we were stunned we were also proud to see lawyers standing up for the Constitution and for access to justice. Lawyers and elected officials take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Too often that oath is interpreted to mean that we should just not violate the Constitution ourselves. That oath means so much more than that. Twenty lawyers reminded Texas and the rest of the nation and the world just what is required by those of us who swear to protect and defend the Constitution.

That is why other groups and individuals are joining in that complaint this week. I am joining in it. The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to report activity by other judges that violates the Code. Behavior that diminishes public confidence in the justice system violates the Code.

During the Watergate hearings Barbara Jordan said. "My faith in the Constitution is complete. I will not stand by and be an idle spectator in the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution."

Members of the public who also wish to join in a complaint against Sharon Keller can sign on to a judicial complaint against Keller here. More than 400 people have already signed on.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

'cause the judge in the town's got bloodstains on her hands

Below is an editorial cartoon by Ben Sargent from today's Austin American-Statesman commenting on Sharon Keller's refusal to accept an appeal 20 minutes late on the day of an execution.

Have you seen the Sharon Keller MySpace page? That is where we found the title of this post. Go listen to Sharon's MySpace page. Be sure to turn on your speaker.

Sign the judicial complaint against Keller.

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Sign the Online Complaint Against Sharon Keller

If you are as shocked as we were by the refusal of Judge Sharon Keller to accept an appeal 20 minutes after 5 PM by lawyers representing a man about to be executed, then sign on to this complaint. We will submit this complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on October 30, 2007. In order for your name to count on the complaint for the submission, you must provide all the requested contact information, including your phone number and occupation.

We must also have your signature, so download the signature form PDF version , MS Word version and fax it to 512-402-8428 or mail it to Scott Cobb at 3616 Far West Blvd, Suite 117, Box 251, Austin, Texas 78731. If you would like to download a copy of the complaint for your records, click here.

Anyone can sign on to the complaint. It is intended as a means for regular members of the public to express their outrage at Keller's action.

Sign the complaint.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Online poll on Sharon Keller at Grits

Go vote in the online poll at Grits for Breakfast. Look on the right side on the front page.

"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?"

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Statesman: Keller is "coldblooded"

The Austin American Statesman Editorial board in "Justice in Texas? Not on her watch" (Sunday, Oct 14, 2007) says that:

it is abundantly clear that Keller and her court have been more concerned with process than justice. They have repeatedly ignored the fundamental right of a defendant to competent counsel. Reporting by the American-Statesman’s Chuck Lindell has highlighted the court’s indifference to glaringly inept defense attorneys in capital cases.

Keller’s coldblooded response in the Richard case may have been the last straw that prompted the ethical complaint, but the appeals court has been grating on legal sensibilities for years.

Finally, an important part of the legal community said it has had enough and moved to have Keller disciplined, and possibly removed from the bench. That is an important step in guarding the integrity of criminal justice in Texas.

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A cold, cold, cold and dark heart

The Austin Chronicle says that:

you likely know now what a cold, cold, cold and dark heart has CCA presiding Judge Sharon Keller. Sure, Keller has long been considered a cold fish by many – lawyers, journalists, and those with even the barest hint of a pulse, among others – but her latest show of distaste for, really, her job, is mind-blowing. According to the E-N, Keller basically, well, lied, by saying that the reason the court failed to hear Richard’s appeal was that it wasn’t at the court by 5pm, the deadline she arbitrarily set without consulting any of the court’s other judges, several of whom actually stayed late at work that evening in anticipation of a late-filed appeal.
and more:
Keller’s comments to the daily appear to violate the Code’s First Cannon, providing that a judge “should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and should personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary is preserved.”

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Friday, October 12, 2007

ABC News Reports on Sharon Keller Controversy

As Mary Alice Robbins reports on Texas Lawyer Blog, criticism continues to grow in Texas about Judge Keller's unethical decision to refuse to accept an appeal from a man about to be executed:

Houston solo Patrick McCann, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, says the HCCLA board of directors voted Thursday to file a complaint against Keller with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. McCann declines to give the vote tally. But he says, “There was a very strong opinion that the board should speak out.”

Now, the story has been picked up by ABC news.

Texas Judge's Decison To Close On Time Lead to Immediate Execution
From World News with Charles Gibson
Oct. 12, 2007—
Four words -- "We close at 5" -- enforced by Texas judge Sharon Keller led to the almost immediate execution of convicted murderer Michael Richard.

Three hours after Keller refused to keep her courthouse open past closing time to receive the condemned killer's request to stay his execution, Richard was executed.

"If Sharon Keller had not slammed the door, Mr. Richard would still be alive," said Jim C. Harrington, director of Texas Defender Service .

Richard's attorney's computer broke down, and when they called the courthouse asking for a little more time, just 20 minutes more, Judge Keller ordered the court clerk not to wait for the appeal that could have at least temporarily stopped his execution.

After the execution, prominent defense attorneys from across Texas signed an official complaint against Keller, asking the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to disciplined or fire her.

"This execution proceeded because the highest criminal court couldn't be bothered to stay an extra 20 minutes on the night of an execution," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service.

It's not just the attorneys complaining. In a rare development, other judges on the appeals court -- three of whom stayed late in the courthouse waiting to rule on Richard's motion -- have criticized Keller's decision.

Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was expecting to rule on the case, told the Austin American-Statesman she was dismayed by Keller's decision. "And I was angry," she told the paper. "If I'm in charge of the execution, I ought to have known about those things & I mean this is a death."

Richard's appeal was not a surprise because the U.S. Supreme Court has let it be known that it would soon decide if lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. Until the Supreme Court rules, the death penalty is practically on hold in the United States.

Keller refused several ABC News requests for comment, but the judge did defend her actions in a Texas newspaper.

"I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time. They had all day," she told the Houston Chronicle.

Or at least until 5 p.m. and not a minute more -- even when life depended on it.


Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

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Fax in Signature to Sign on to Second Complaint Against Sharon Keller

If you are not a Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association member and would like to join in HCCLA's complaint against Sharon Keller to be filed on Monday, please sign
this form (PDF) and fax it to 832.201.7770.

Anyone can sign on to the complaint, whether you are a lawyer or not, and whether you live in Houston or not.

According to this blog from Houston attorney Mark Bennett, a second complaint against Judge Sharon Keller will be filed on Monday.

Anyone who wants to sign this second complaint against Keller, lawyers or non-lawyers, should contact Mark Bennett or show up at the location below on Friday, Oct 12. They can also download the signature page and fax it to Mark at the number on the page.

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association is going to be filing a complaint against Judge Keller with the Commission on Judicial Conduct on Monday. Tomorrow from about 10:30 a.m. to about noon I will be in the ready room on the 7th floor of the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, 1201 Franklin Street at San Jacinto, with a copy of the complaint for you to sign.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Second Complaint Against Sharon Keller in the Works

If you are not a Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association member and would like to join in HCCLA's complaint against Sharon Keller to be filed on Monday, please sign
this form (PDF) and fax it to 832.201.7770.

According to this blog from a Houston attorney, a second complaint against Judge Sharon Keller is in the works. I just heard back from the person who wrote the blog and it is verified. Anyone who wants to sign this second complaint against Keller, lawyers or non-lawyers, should contact Mark Bennett or show up at the location below on Friday, Oct 12.

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association is going to be filing a complaint against Judge Keller with the Commission on Judicial Conduct on Monday. Tomorrow from about 10:30 a.m. to about noon I will be in the ready room on the 7th floor of the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, 1201 Franklin Street at San Jacinto, with a copy of the complaint for you to sign.
If you know anyone in Houston, let them know about this opportunity to sign the second complaint.

Mark Bennett contact info:

blog: http://www.Defending...


Bennett & Bennett, Lawyers http://www.FightTheF...


(Just lawyers helping people.) http://www.BennettAn...


735 Oxford Street

866.221.8111 (toll-free)


Houston, Texas 77007 USA

713.224.1747 (from Houston and overseas)

832.201.7770 (fax)

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Jim Mattox, Mark White Criticize Greg Abbott For Not Stopping Execution Following Court Closing by Sharon Keller

The controversy about Judge Sharon Keller has hit the front page of the Houston Chronicle in an article that has former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Governor (and former Attorney General) Mark White criticizing current Attorney General Greg Abbott. The article says White and Mattox "raised questions about whether Attorney General Greg Abbott should have intervened to stop (Michael) Richard's execution. The attorney general represents the state in death penalty appeals."

The article quotes White saying Abbott is an officer of the court and he "should have been obligated to ask for a stay" in the Richard execution.

There was also one other option for stopping the execution after Keller's unethical decision to close access to Texas' highest criminal appeals court. Governor Perry could have issued a 30-day stay of execution.

Excerpt from Chronicle article:

Former Gov. Mark White and former Attorney General Jim Mattox, who both fought to enforce the state's capital punishment laws during their terms as attorney general, said Abbott, as the state's top lawyer, has a duty to halt executions when they appear to violate an inmate's due process rights.

White said Abbott is an officer of the court and he "should have been obligated to ask for a stay" in the Richard execution.

Mattox said the attorney general may lack actual legal authority to stop an execution, but the state prison system will follow an attorney general's order.

Mattox, who witnessed more than 30 executions, said he once ordered an inmate off the execution gurney over prison system protests because he knew the man would receive a stay.

"When the state is all powerful, the state has got to be cautious in how it uses its power," he said. "Sometimes you do things not to protect the individual but to protect the system itself."

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Former State Bar of Texas President Joins Complaint Against Sharon Keller

Mary Alice Robbins, a reporter for Texas Lawyer, who attended yesterday's press conference at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has a quote from one of the 20 lawyers who filed the complaint:

Broadus Spivey, a former State Bar of Texas president and a partner in Austin’s Spivey & Grigg, is another of the 20 attorneys who joined in filing the complaint. Spivey says in an interview that he was appalled when he read newspaper reports that Keller closed the court’s office before Richard’s attorneys could file the motion for a stay.

“It shows an amazing lack of sensitivity to constitutional rights,” Spivey says. “No matter how guilty a person is, give him a right to be heard.”

In their law practices, Herring and Spivey represent clients in cases involving lawyers’ professional responsibility.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Full Text of Complaint Filed Against Sharon Keller

UPDATED Nov 9: Please sign on to our judicial complaint against Sharon Keller. So far, more than 1,300 people have signed. We will mail it to the State Commisson on Judicial Conduct on Friday, November 16, 2007 and also hold a press conference and rally at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals at 4:45 on Nov 16 to call for the resignation of Keller.

SharonKiller.com

End Update:

At today's press conference, a copy of the judicial complaint against Judge Sharon Keller, filed on behalf of 20 lawyers with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, was distributed to the media. Read it below. It might be easier to read if you download the pdf, instead of reading it below.

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Complaint Filed Against Sharon Keller

Click here to sign on to a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller.

Sharon Keller's days on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals may be getting shorter. Today, members of Texas Moratorium Network attended a press conference at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals at which it was announced that twenty lawyers from across Texas were filing a formal judicial conduct complaint against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, accusing her of violating the constitutional due process of a condemned man. The complaint will be investigated by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has the power to discipline Keller, including removing her from office.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting:

The complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct says Keller improperly cut off appeals that led to the execution of Michael Richard on Sept. 25 despite the fact the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in the day had accepted a case on the propriety of lethal injection, which had direct implications for Richard's execution.

"Judge Keller's actions denied Michael Richard two constitutional rights, access to the courts and due process, which led to his execution," the complaint states. "Her actions also brought the integrity of the Texas judiciary and of her court into disrepute and was a source of scandal to the citizens of the state."

Those lawyers signing the complaint included former State Bar President Broadus Spivey, Houston criminal defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin, University of Houston law professor Mike Olivas, former appellate Judge Michol O'Connor, state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, and former Nueces County Attorney Mike Westergren.

The lawyers are being represented in the complaint by Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Harrington said Keller's actions were "morally callous, shocking and unconscionable for an appellate judge."

The commission's proceedings are secret. At the end, the commission can dismiss a complaint without making it public; publicly reprimand a judge or recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that the judge be removed from office.

At issue is the sequence of events leading up to the execution of Richard, 49, for the 1986 rape and fatal shooting of Marguerite Dixon, a Hockley mother of seven.

Lawyers for Richard had called the court's clerk, asking that the office stay open an extra 20 minutes so a stay of execution request could be filed. Even if it was denied by the state court, that request was procedurally necessary to get a stay from the Supreme Court.

Keller last week voiced no second thoughts about her actions.

"You're asking me whether something different would have happened if we had stayed open," Keller said, "and I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time? They had all day."

Although other judges at the Texas appeals court were waiting for Richard's appeal, Keller ordered the clerk to close promptly at 5 p.m. Because of that, Richard's appeal was not filed and he was executed later in the evening.

Judge Cheryl Johnson was the appeals court jurist in charge of Richard's case. She said she never heard anything about the clerk's office closing off the appeal until the following day.

"I wasn't consulted," Johnson said. "I have been here almost nine years. My understanding was that on a death case we were here up until the time of the execution and we would take filings that came in up until 6 o'clock and the execution is underway."

Johnson said it is not a question of whether Richard is guilty but did he have the right to appeal.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Press Conference to Announce Complaint Against Sharon Keller: Front of CCA on Wednesday, Oct 10, at 1:30

There will be a press conference at 1:30 PM on Wednesday, Oct 10, in front of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to announce the filing of a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network, will be present, along with others.

The Houston Chronicle has reported about how Keller refused to accept a late appeal from a person about to be executed, saying "We close at 5".

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges were ready to work late the evening Michael Richard was executed, expecting an eleventh-hour appeal that — unbeknownst to them — Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow to be filed after 5 p.m.

That's according to interviews with two judges, one of whom stayed until 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 and one who left early but was available and said others stayed. They expected Richard's lawyers to file an appeal based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision earlier in the day to consider a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

"There were plenty of judges here, and there were plenty of other personnel here," said Judge Cathy Cochran, who had to go home early that day but was available. "A number of judges stayed very late that evening, waiting for a filing from the defense attorney."

Cochran said at the least, a decision should have been made by the full court on whether to accept the appeal: "I would definitely accept anything at any time from someone who was about to be executed."

Judge Paul Womack said, "All I can tell you is that night I stayed at the court until 7 o'clock in case some late filing came in. I was under the impression we might get something. ... It was reasonable to expect an effort would be made with some haste in light of the Supreme Court" action. He added, "It was an important issue. I wanted to be sure to be available in case it was raised."

Keller didn't consult the other judges about taking the appeal after 5 p.m. and said she didn't think she could have reached them. She said, however, that Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned the case, was at the court. Johnson didn't return a telephone call.

Keller voiced no second thoughts more than a week after her decision.

"You're asking me whether something different would have happened if we had stayed open," Keller said, "and I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time? They had all day."

David Dow, an attorney in the case who runs the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, called her statement "outrageous," noting that lawyers had to decide legal strategy and then craft a filing about why the case before the U.S. Supreme Court applied to Richard's arguments.

The reason behind the request for the delay was a severe computer problem, Dow said. He said he told the court clerk about the problem. Keller said the lawyers didn't give a reason.

Dow also said the court will not accept a filing by e-mail. If it did, he said, lawyers could have met the 5 p.m. deadline once they beat their computer problem, because printing the filing took extra time. The lawyers needed about another 20 minutes.

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he was thinking about filing a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct about Keller.

"When I saw that, I think I would just describe my reaction as 'stunningly unconscionable,' " Harrington said of her refusal. "There has to be some kind of accountability for this."
The Dallas Morning News editorial board has written about Keller's action:
When the state takes the life of a condemned criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn't be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.


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Misplaced National Anti-Death Penalty Funding Priorities

The Daily Texan is running a well-written column today by Hooman Hedayati entitled "National neglect and our death penalty struggle" in which he says "the national anti-death penalty movement should invest more time and money in our state. How many lives could have been saved, as was Kenneth Foster's, if national campaigns channeled more funds into Texas over the last 10 years?"

That is a good question, worth repeating. Hey, hey, national leaders of the anti-death penalty movement, how many lives did you fail to save in Texas this year?

You can probably include the name of Michael Richard in the list of people whose executions were carried out in Texas in part because national leaders failed to adequately fund the Texas effort to stop executions. The non-profit law firm that was working on the Richard case had computer problems that delayed them getting an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals before 5 PM on the day of the execution. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the CCA refused to accept the appeal late and Richard was executed. Keller should resign her position or be removed from office for failing to uphold the integrity of the justice system by allowing the state to execute someone who was not given full access to the courts. Before telling Richard's lawyers, "We close at 5", she did not even consult with other judges on her court who were in the office working late and who have said in newspaper reports that they would have allowed the appeal to be accepted late.

Putting aside the actions of one unethical judge, if there had been more funds invested in Texas by the national anti-death penalty movement over the last year, then Texas Defender Service might have some reliable computers that would not have broken down.

Instead of misdirecting funds to non-death penalty states such as Wisconsin and Iowa, as was done by the national leadership in 2006, funds need to go to those states where funding will save people from execution. The Tides Foundation gave $182,500 to six states through their state strategies program in 2006, but zero to Texas.

In 2008, there should be $250,000 in new anti-death penalty funding directed to Texas. This money should be used to build a grassroots infrastructure ahead of the next session of the Texas Legislature in 2009.

The national leaders have directed such major funding to one state before. As Hooman points out in his article, "the JEHT Foundation (Justice, Equality, Human dignity and Tolerance) gave a total of $542,400 to New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty from 2004 to 2006, but there hasn't been an execution in New York since 1963, and there is one person on that state's death row".

More from Hooman's Texan column:

An enormous opportunity looms in Texas to actually achieve a moratorium on executions because of growing awareness that innocent people can be caught up in the system. But, lacking support on the national scale, Texas groups working to stop executions are not as well-equipped as they could be to take advantage of this ripe political moment.

The Kenneth Foster campaign taught us that organizing at the grassroots level works. Gov. Rick Perry would not have stopped Kenneth Foster's execution if there had been no public outrage concerning the planned death of a person who had not killed anyone. The group that played the biggest role in stopping Foster's execution was a student organization right here at UT: the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. In a thank-you letter after his commutation, Kenneth Foster wrote, "these people are gladiators when it comes to grassroots activism, and they definitely were the force behind this frontline."

The Texas nonprofit groups dedicated to abolishing the death penalty are run mainly by volunteers, and they lack funding and professional staff. There is not a single person in any grassroots anti-death penalty organization in Texas who is paid to work full-time. However, other states with far fewer executions than Texas have several full time staff members and much more funding.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Sharon Keller's Action May Endanger Death Penalty Itself

Could Sharon Keller's action in the Michael Richard case endanger the death penalty itself? Maybe one day her action will be cited to the U.S. Supreme Court as an example of why the death penalty is unconstitutional.

The Boston Globe notes in an editorial today entitled "Always Cruel and Unusual" that Michael Richard

was executed Sept. 25 - the very day the Supreme Court decided to hear the lethal injection arguments - because the Texas court had closed for business.

The haphazard, capricious way the legal system decides who lives or dies violates fundamental American principles of fair and equal justice. The Supreme Court already has said that "evolving standards of decency" will guide its thinking in capital punishment cases. Lethal injection, and the death penalty itself, both fail the test of decency.

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Womack, Cochran and other judges should file complaint against Sharon Keller

Clay Robison writes in his column today in the Houston Chronicle that Sharon Keller

was re-elected to the all-Republican court last year and won't face the voters again until 2012. Although races for this court normally generate little public attention, the furor could give Democrats some ammunition.

It was interesting to note that Judges Cathy Cochran and Paul Womack, who will be on the ballot next year, were complaining publicly about Keller's unilateral decision.
Cochran and Womack should probably do more than just complain publicly about Keller. They may be obligated by judicial ethics to file a complaint against Keller. The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct says that:
a judge who receives information clearly establishing that another judge has committed a violation of this Code should take appropriate action. A judge having knowledge that another judge has committed a violation of this Code that raises a substantial question as to the other judge's fitness for office shall inform the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or take other appropriate action.
The Code further defines the word shall by saying that '"Shall" or "shall not" denotes binding obligations the violation of which can result in disciplinary action.'

So, if Womack, Cochran and other CCA judges who know what happened, do not file a complaint against Keller with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, then they themselves could be disciplined, if someone files a complaint regarding their failure to act against Keller.

Certainly, their failure to act, which would constitute a failure to uphold the integrity of the Court, could become a campaign issue.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Press Conference (Postponed) to Announce Complaint Against Sharon Keller

We are going to reschedule this again in a couple of days. Keep an eye out for more info later this week.

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Did Sharon Keller lie when she said "We close at 5"? Would such a lie constitute malfeasance or obstruction of justice?

When considering the behavior of Sharon Keller in the matter of Michael Richard, there are a couple of phrases that come to mind, at least to the mind of a non-lawyer: "obstruction of justice" and "malfeasance in office". There needs to be an official investigation, by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in the first place, but also by the Travis County District Attorney. The purpose of the investigations should be to determine if Sharon Keller abused her official position to impede Michael Richard's access to the court and thus to justice.

According to newspaper reports Keller told the lawyers for Michael Richard: "We close at 5."

Does the Court of Criminal Appeals really close at 5? Does it close at all? What does it mean to close a court? Can one judge "close" a court?

The Houston Chronicle reports that "At least three judges were working late in the courthouse that evening, and others were available by phone if needed".

None of the judges was informed of Richard's request by Keller or by the court's general counsel, Edward Marty, who had consulted with Keller on the request."

If that is true, then the court did not close at 5 and Keller lied. If she told the lie to the clerk of the Court and asked that it be passed on to the defense lawyers, then she either committed obstruction of justice or malfeasance in office.

Judge Cathy Cochran asked the right question when she said:

"First off, was justice done in the Richard case? And secondly, will the public perceive that justice was done and agree that justice was done?" Cochran said. "Our courts should be open to always redress a true wrong, and as speedily as possible. That's what courts exist for."

It seems apparent that Justice was not done in the Richard case, and if it was not done because Keller dishonestly said "We close at 5", then there is no question that Keller is unfit to be a judge and should be removed from office.

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Newspapers and Columnists Criticize Sharon Keller

Newspaper editorial boards and columnists have begun to comment on Sharon Keller's refusal to accept a late appeal by Michael Richard. Meanwhile, Texas Moratorium Network and the Texas Civil Rights Project are two organizations expected to file complaints against Keller with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Bob Ray Sanders says:

"Keller proves how unjust (or at the very least how insensitive) the highest criminal court in the state can be.

And once again, Lady Justice ought to be hiding her head in shame in the Lone Star State.
The Austin-American Statesman Editorial Board says,
"That callous disregard shocked the world, and the international outcry may have prompted Keller’s court to temporarily halt Chi’s execution. Texas was slow to recognize that executions should be banned while the high court determines whether lethal injections violate the Eighth Amendment’s cruel-and-unusual language.

Better late than not at all. If Texas continues to execute condemned prisoners on the eve of the Supreme Court decision, it will incur the scorn of the civilized world. After the offense of Richard’s death, Texas needs to adhere to expected standards of conduct and prohibit all executions until the Supreme Court rules.
Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle, says:
Sharon Keller, Texas' top judge on criminal matters, may have shocked much of the nation last week when she ordered a clerk not to stay open an extra 20 minutes to accept a last-minute appeal for a man on death row.

But she didn't shock those who know her.

After all, this is the same judge who nine years ago responded to DNA evidence indicating the innocence of a man who had been in prison for years on a rape charge by writing that he may have used a condom.
The Dallas Morning News, in keeping with their recent heightened attention to death penalty issues, was the first newspaper editorial board to address the issue, saying on Oct 3:
That is unconscionable.

You might not lose sleep over the fact that the court wouldn't stay open for 20 minutes to help a convicted rapist-murderer's attempt to evade the needle a bit longer. You should think again.

When the state takes the life of a condemned criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn't be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sharon Keller - Human Rights Activist or Unethical Judge?

Sharon Keller thinks that failing to impose capital punishment is "a human rights violation". At least that is what she told the Houston Chronicle in 1994.

Her peculiar understanding of human rights may explain why she refused to accept a late appeal from Michael Richard on the day of his execution in which he was asking for a stay while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the drugs used in lethal injections violate the 8th Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. She may have thought she was exercising her own human right to impose capital punishment and that trumped whatever constitutional rights Richard might have had.

In 2001, the Houston Chronicle published an article in which it quoted from a 1994 interview with Sharon Keller when she first ran for a position on the Court of Criminal Appeals: :

During her campaign to replace outgoing Judge Chuck Miller, Keller criticized the sitting court as too lenient and openly displayed her support for the death penalty.

In an opinion piece the Chronicle published a month before Keller was elected, she called the failure to impose capital punishment on convicted murderers "a human rights violation -- particularly if we take into account the human rights that murderers violate when left alive to kill again."

Keller, a former appellate prosecutor for Dallas County, said in a recent interview that her strong views do not affect the way she decides capital cases.

"We look at the arguments of both parties," she said.
Of course, now we know that she meant she looks at the arguments of both parties unless they arrive twenty minutes after 5 PM on the day of an execution, then she doesn't look at anything.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

TMN Plans to File Official Complaint Against Sharon Keller with State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Sign the judicial complaint against Keller. Anyone can sign. We plan to submit it on Oct 30, 2007 to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct says: "The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law. Intrinsic to all sections of this Code of Judicial Conduct are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system".

The public trust in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has been broken because of Sharon Keller's outrageous behavior.

In order to restore public trust in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Moratorium Network is planning on filing a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Sharon Keller. As reported in the Daily Texan:

"Today we find out Judge Sharon Keller made that decision all by herself and she didn't consult with any of the other judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals," said Scott Cobb, president of the Texas Moratorium Network, a nonprofit, organization in support for suspending executions in Texas.

Cobb said one judge is assigned to handle late appeals on the nights of scheduled executions, and Cheryl Johnson was working the night Richards was executed. Keller didn't call Johnson to ask her if she would accept this late appeal, which resulted in what Cobb called an "unjust" execution.

"We're calling on Judge Sharon Keller to resign her office because when you're a judge you have to act with integrity and with the eye towards justice," Cobb said. "If you're not doing that, then you need to step down."

Cobb said he and the organization will file a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has the authority to remove a judge from office who is acting without integrity if she does not step down.

"We can't have a presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals that in a life and death case is going to close the office at 5 o'clock and allow someone to be executed - just on her own - without consulting any other judges," Cobb said.
Now, the the Houston Chronicle is reporting that at least one other group may also file a complaint against Keller. Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he was thinking about filing a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct about Keller.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting new details on what happened on the day Keller closed the court at 5 PM.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges were ready to work late the evening Michael Richard was executed, expecting an eleventh-hour appeal that - unbeknownst to them - Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused to allow to be filed after 5 p.m.

That's according to interviews with two judges, one of whom stayed until 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 and one who left early but was available and said others stayed. They expected Richard's lawyers to file an appeal based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision earlier in the day to consider a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

"There were plenty of judges here, and there were plenty of other personnel here," said Judge Cathy Cochran, who had to go home early that day but was available. "A number of judges stayed very late that evening, waiting for a filing from the defense attorney."

Cochran said at the least, a decision should have been made by the full court on whether to accept the appeal: "I would definitely accept anything at any time from someone who was about to be executed."

Judge Paul Womack said, "All I can tell you is that night I stayed at the court until 7 o'clock in case some late filing came in. I was under the impression we might get something. ... It was reasonable to expect an effort would be made with some haste in light of the Supreme Court" action. He added, "It was an important issue. I wanted to be sure to be available in case it was raised."

Keller didn't consult the other judges about taking the appeal after 5 p.m. and said she didn't think she could have reached them. She said, however, that Judge Cheryl Johnson, who was assigned the case, was at the court. Johnson didn't return a telephone call.

Keller voiced no second thoughts more than a week after her decision.

"You're asking me whether something different would have happened if we had stayed open," Keller said, "and I think the question ought to be why didn't they file something on time? They had all day."

David Dow, an attorney in the case who runs the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, called her statement "outrageous," noting that lawyers had to decide legal strategy and then craft a filing about why the case before the U.S. Supreme Court applied to Richard's arguments.

The reason behind the request for the delay was a severe computer problem, Dow said. He said he told the court clerk about the problem. Keller said the lawyers didn't give a reason.

Dow also said the court will not accept a filing by e-mail. If it did, he said, lawyers could have met the 5 p.m. deadline once they beat their computer problem, because printing the filing took extra time. The lawyers needed about another 20 minutes.

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he was thinking about filing a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct about Keller.

"When I saw that, I think I would just describe my reaction as 'stunningly unconscionable,' " Harrington said of her refusal. "There has to be some kind of accountability for this."

Seana Willing, executive director of the Texas commission, said she isn't sure Keller could be sanctioned, were a complaint to be filed, because she isn't aware of anything in the Code of Judicial Conduct that would cover her decision to close the clerk's office while a death penalty case was pending. She indicated she looked through the code after learning of the dispute but could find "nothing specific" dealing with it.

Keller, who was re-elected last year to a six-year term, and Cochran also said they couldn't think of a provision that Keller's action would violate. Judge Mike Keasler, noting he teaches judicial ethics, said he knows of no violation related to such an administrative action by the court's presiding judge.

Harrington said, "I think you'd take the totality of it and have to make some sort of argument this was a gross miscarriage of justice."

Lawyers said that without a ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Richard's appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court couldn't consider it. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed another man's execution the same week, after his appeal was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Even though there may not be a specific provision that Keller violated in the the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it does say that the code "is not intended as an exhaustive guide for the conduct of judges. They should also be governed in their judicial and personal conduct by general ethical standards".

So using that clause, it should be possible for the commission to act, even though Keller's specific ethical lapse is not listed in the Code of Judicial Conduct.

According to quotes in the Chronicle, it appears that Judges Cochran and Womack believe that Keller was the cause of the problems. If they believe that, then according to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct they themselves may be ethically obligated to file a complaint against Keller with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The code says, "A judge who receives information clearly establishing that another judge has committed a violation of this Code should take appropriate action. A judge having knowledge that another judge has committed a violation of this Code that raises a substantial question as to the other judge's fitness for office shall inform the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or take other appropriate action."

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