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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Burnam Seeking a Hearing on Impeachment of Sharon Keller: Call Chair Todd Hunter to Urge Him to Hold a Hearing

Please call the Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and urge him to hold a hearing on Lon Burnam's resolution (HR 480) to create a committee to determine if Sharon Keller should be impeached. 512-463-0672. Email Hunter on his website form.

Rep Todd Hunter
Capitol Address
Room E2.808, Capitol Extension
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 463-0672

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting that Burnam spoke with Hunter on Monday about holding a hearing. Now, Hunter should hear from us. Impeach Sharon Keller

From the Star-Telegram:

News that Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller has been seeking state legal aid while failing to disclose nearly $2 million in real estate holdings creates an even greater need for the Legislature to hold impeachment hearings, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said Monday.

Keller has said that it would be "financially ruinous" to pay lawyers to fight misconduct charges that could get her removed from the bench.

A sworn statement Keller filed with the Texas Ethics Commission last year did not abide by legal requirements that she disclose her ownership interest in seven residential and commercial properties in Dallas and Tarrant counties, The Dallas Morning News reported Monday.

The newspaper said those properties are valued at roughly $1.9 million.

Burnam filed a resolution in February to begin impeachment proceedings based on Keller’s refusal to keep her office open after hours to allow a last-minute appeal from a Death Row inmate who was executed several hours later.

"The nature of those charges means, if anything, we may have to amend the resolution," Burnam said.

Burnam’s resolution has been referred to the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. Burnam said he spoke Monday with the committee chairman, Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, about the need to hold a hearing on his resolution immediately. A call to Hunter was not returned Monday.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is also planning trial-like proceedings against Keller. Burnam said there is not widespread confidence in the commission’s ability to address the charges against Keller quickly or fairly.

"I think those legal proceedings were a charade to stretch her out through her re-election," Burnam said. "I think they’re going to slap her on the wrist, and she needs to leave office."

Among Keller’s unlisted properties are two Dallas homes valued together at just over $1 million. Keller is listed as sole owner under Sharon Batjer, her married name. She divorced in 1982. Another omission is commercial land next to Keller’s Drive-In, a landmark Dallas hamburger restaurant operated since 1965 by the judge’s father, Jack.

Keller’s ethics commission filing listed income of more than $275,000, including her annual salary of $152,500. County tax records valued properties she did claim, including her Austin home, at roughly $1 million. Keller’s attorney, Chip Babcock, did not return a call Monday.

Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, the Austin-based group that monitors officeholder finances, decried Keller’s omissions as an "extremely outrageous" betrayal of the public trust.

Keller, a Republican who has been on the court since 1994, filed a 12-page response last week to the charges. She faulted the executed inmate’s attorneys for not finding other means for after-hours appeals. She said they could have tried to contact the other eight judges on the bench or the court’s general counsel.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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