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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Judge Keller Should be Suspended Under Rule 15b

In 2007, I was one of the many people and several groups who filed a judicial complaint against Sharon Keller. The complaint I filed was co-signed by about 1,900 people. I waited, somewhat impatiently, 15 months until the State Commission on Judicial Conduct finally charged Keller with misconduct last week. Last December, I dropped by Lon Burnam's office at the capitol with a copy of a blog post I had written on BOR entitled "Legislature Should Remove Sharon Keller from the Court of Criminal Appeals" and urged him to file an impeachment resolution. Now, I believe Keller should be suspended from office pending the outcome of her upcoming public trial.

Rule 15(b) of the Procedural Rules for Removal or Retirement of Judges on the website of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct allows the Commission to request that the Supreme Court of Texas suspend a judge.

It is time for the Commission to suspend Sharon Keller until the formal proceedings, which include a public trial, are complete and the Commission votes to dismiss the case, issue a public censure, or recommend to the Supreme Court that Keller be removed from office. Keller has lost the confidence of the people of Texas. The latest example of that lost confidence was expressed in today's Houston Chronicle editorial that says, "A faulty ethical compass makes Judge Sharon Keller unfit for the bench."

Other newspapers have expressed similar sentiments.

The Dallas Morning News last week said, "Texas must have courts that are dispassionate, fair and soberly mindful of their life-and-death authority. Judge Keller's actions cast doubt about whether she measures up, and her opportunity to address that will clarify her level of commitment to justice over vengeance."

The Austin American-Statesman says, "Keller's decision — made by her alone — was grossly insensitive, unjust and discredited her court in the eyes of the world."

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says, "there’s no excuse for arbitrary actions that undermine public confidence in the integrity of Texas’ courts".

Rule 15(b) states:

Upon filing with the Commission of a sworn complaint charging a person holding such office with willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas, incompetence in performing the duties of office, willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful and persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or cases public discredit upon the judiciary or the administration of justice, the Commission, after giving the person notice and an opportunity to appear and be heard before the Commission (under the provisions of Rule 6), may recommend to the Supreme Court the suspension of such person from office.
The Commission has charged Keller in the Notice of Formal Proceedings with 1) "willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties as presiding judge", 2) "willful or persistent conduct that casts public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice", 3) "incompetence in the performance of duties of office".

Those are the exact reasons given in Rule 15b for suspending a judge. The Commission should immediately begin the process to recommend that the Texas Supreme Court suspends Keller. She should still stand trial, but in the meantime she should not exercise the powers of her office as a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The other option to achieve Keller's suspension is for the Texas House to vote to impeach her. If she is impeached by the House, she is automatically suspended pending the outcome of her Senate trial.

Post written by Scott Cobb

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