Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Dallas Morning News Explains Editorial on Sharon Keller

The Dallas Morning News Assistant Editorial Page Editor, Michael Landauer, who heads the editorial board's death penalty team, explains the paper's position on Sharon Keller in response to an email from a reader:

Robert Rainey of Arlington e-mailed last week to complain about an editorial we wrote about Sharon Keller, the state's head criminal appeals judge. The editorial called it "fitting" that Ms. Keller, who won national notoriety with her we-close-at-5 rejection of a 2007 death penalty appeal, will have to defend her actions – and her job – in a rare hearing before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

An excerpt from Mr. Rainey:

"Your editorial on Judge Keller spoke as the true liberals you are. Judge Keller was correct in her actions. There has to be a limit on appeals and that limit was not met. You did not ask the lawyers why they did not meet that limit after plenty of time for appeals. I suspect they were just trying to delay the execution, hoping something would happen."

Assistant Editorial Page Editor Michael Landauer, who heads the editorial board's death penalty team, responded to Mr. Rainey by noting that the particular appeal Ms. Keller rejected wasn't the usual finding-of-fact issue or even a particular trial issue:

"It was based on action by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier that day that halted executions in this country for a matter of months. The attorneys did not file this earlier because this decision had just been made public by the court earlier that day. The Supreme Court later clarified that, yes, all executions should be on hold until they ruled on the case they had decided to examine."

Michael added: "Even if we supported the death penalty, we would find it troubling that a judge would ignore the U.S. Supreme Court and make up an arbitrary deadline for lawyers."

The other members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later said there is no deadline for such appeals and have created a new system of considering appeals based on last-minute information. So, Michael concluded in his e-mail to Mr. Rainey, "in that sense, this is not about the death penalty as much as it is about a competent judiciary."

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